President Bush has praised a proposed immigration reform bill, calling it a way to both protect the U.S. border and uphold the American tradition of immigration.

Mr. Bush spoke Tuesday at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in the southern U.S. state of Georgia. He said the proposed bill, which has been agreed on by the White House and a bipartisan group of senators, is the best hope for lasting reform. The Senate will resume debate on the bill after a holiday recess.

President Bush emphasized that any new options for immigrants and foreign workers will not begin until tougher border security is in place. He also rejected claims that the proposal offers amnesty to illegal immigrants, calling the accusations "empty political rhetoric."

Under the bill, immigrants would be given temporary legal status, provided they come forward, pay a fine and undergo a criminal background check.

The bill also would create a guest worker program that would allow foreign laborers to come to the United States for temporary stays.

Some critics of the bill say it rewards criminal behavior by granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. Other critics say the bill is too hard on immigrants, because it would make them return to their home country and wait in line to apply for a green card for permanent resident status.

Last week, lawmakers in the Senate rejected a handful of amendments to the immigration deal, including eliminating a provision that offers legal status to most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.