President Bush is urging members of the U.S. Congress to overcome their differences and pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The president acknowledges reaching a compromise will not be easy.
The House and Senate have passed drastically different versions of immigration reform legislation and now face the task of merging them into one compromise bill.
President Bush acknowledges it will be tough going, but says it can and must be done.
"It's a difficult task," he said. "Yet the difficulty of this task is no excuse for avoiding it."
In a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a national association of business owners, the president made very clear he prefers the comprehensive Senate bill over the far more restrictive border security legislation that cleared the House.
The Senate version includes a temporary guest worker program and a formula that would enable some illegal immigrants to eventually apply for citizenship.
House critics maintain the Senate plan grants amnesty to those who have broken U.S. laws, but the president, the former governor of a border state, said it is realistic.
"There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program that requires every illegal immigrant to leave," he added.
He said there are clear differences between illegal immigrants who just crossed the border, and those who have been in the United States for years and have jobs, families and "a clean record."
"I believe illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, pay their taxes, learn English, and work at a job for a number of years," he explained. "People who meet these conditions should eventually be permitted to apply for citizenship like other foreign workers."
But the president stressed they would go to the end of the line, and citizenship would not be automatic. He said deporting all illegal immigrants is not the answer, and the only way to fix the current broken immigration system is a multi-faceted approach that relies on far more than just border security.
"All the elements of this problem must be addressed together or none of them will be solved at all," he noted.
The president found strong support among the members of the Chamber of Commerce, which has been advocating an immigration reform bill that includes a guest worker program.