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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 24, 2007

Press Conference by the President
Rose Garden

11:01 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated. Thank you, all. Good morning.

[ ... ]

Another important issue before Congress is immigration reform. I want to thank the bipartisan group of senators who produced a bill that will help us secure our borders and reform our immigration system. For decades, the government failed to stop illegal immigration. My administration has stepped up efforts to improve border security, doubling the number of Border Patrol agents. We've effectively ended the policy of catch and release, which allowed some illegal immigrants to be released back into society after they were captured.

< Last year alone, we apprehended more than a million people trying to enter this country illegally. This is progress, but it's not enough. Many Americans are rightly skeptical about immigration reform. I strongly believe the bipartisan Senate bill addresses the reasons for past failures, while recognizing the legitimate needs of our economy, and upholding the ideals of our immigrant tradition.

This bill does not grant amnesty. Amnesty is forgiveness without a penalty. Instead, this bill requires workers here illegally to acknowledge that they broke the law, pay a fine, pass background checks, remain employed, and maintain a clean record. This bill provides the best chance to reform our immigration system and help us make certain we know who's in our country and where they are. Our immigration problems cannot be solved piecemeal. They must be all addressed together, and they must be addressed in logical order.

So this legislation requires that border security and worker verification targets are met before other provisions of the bill are triggered. For example, the temporary worker program can begin only after these security measures are fully implemented. Immigration reform is a complex issue; it's a difficult piece of legislation. And those who are looking to find fault with this bill will always be able to find something. If you're serious about securing our borders and bringing millions of illegal immigrants in our country out of the shadows, this bipartisan bill is the best opportunity to move forward. I'm confident with hard work and goodwill, Congress can pass and I can sign a bill that fixes an immigration system we all agree is broken.

The issues of war and immigration are difficult, but that's no excuse in avoiding our responsibility to act. The American people sent us to Washington to take on tough problems, and they expect us to deliver results.

And now I'll be glad to answer some of your questions. Hunt.

[ ... ]

Q Thanks, Mr. President. You've said many times that you plan to sprint to the finish of your presidency. At this point in the home stretch, what can you say you're still expecting to accomplish? And how concerned are you that the immigration bill in particular is going to get caught up in electoral politics?


[ ... ]

Immigration: This is a tough issue. This is a very emotional, hard issue for members of both parties. I've always been a believer that comprehensive immigration reform is the best way to secure our border. I campaigned on that for President twice. I believed it when I was the governor of Texas. I understand this issue very well. I also understand the frustrations of many citizens in that they believe the government hasn't done its job of stopping illegal migrants from coming into the country.

And that's why over the past couple of years there's been a significant effort to secure the border. There's going to be a doubling of the Border Patrol agents; there's going to be fencing and berms and different types of equipment to help the Border Patrol do its job in a better way. As a matter of fact, I was concerned about it enough to ask the National Guard to go down there for a while.

But, John, I don't see -- and so those concerns, by the way, are addressed in this bill. The bill essentially says that before any other reforms take place, certain benchmarks will be met when it comes to securing the border. Last year, during the debate, people said, well, let's have security first. That's exactly what the bill does.

However, I don't see how you can have the border security the American people expect unless you have a temporary worker program, with a verifiable work card. People will come here to do work to feed their families, and they'll figure out ways to do so. As a result of people wanting to come here to do work to feed their families, there is an underground industry that has sprung up that I think is essentially anti-humanitarian. It is an industry based upon coyotes -- those are smugglers. Good, hardworking, decent people pay pretty good size money to be smuggled into the United States of America.

There is a document forgery industry in America. There are people who are willing to stuff people inside temporary shelter in order for them to evade the law. I don't think this is American. I think the whole industry that exploits the human being is not in our nation's interests. And the best way to deal with this problem is to say, if you're going to come and do jobs Americans aren't doing, here is a opportunity to do so, on a temporary basis.

I would much rather have people crossing the border with a legitimate card, coming to work on a temporary basis, than being stuffed in back of an 18-wheeler. And I would hope most Americans feel that, as well.

Secondly, in order for there to be good employer verification -- it's against the law to hire somebody who is here illegally, but many times small businesses or large are presented with documents and they don't know whether they're real or not. And so, therefore, we must have a tamper-proof identification card, which is a part of this bill.

A tough issue, of course, is what do you do with the people already here? Anything short of kicking them out, as far as some people are concerned, is called amnesty. You can't kick them out. Anybody who advocates trying to dig out 12 million people who have been in our society for a while is sending a signal to the American people that's just not real. It's an impractical solution. Nor do I think they ought to be given automatic citizenship -- that is amnesty: Okay, you're here illegally, therefore you're automatically a citizen.

And so, therefore, we proposed and worked with the Senate to devise a plan that said, if you're here already before a certain date, that there are certain hurdles you must cross in order to receive what's called a Z visa, in order to be able to work here. You've got to go through a background check, you've got to pay a fine at some point in time, there's a probationary period, and there's a series of steps that people have to go through. And then people get at the back of the line, the citizenship line, not the beginning of the citizenship line.

If you're for the bill, I thank you. If you're against it -- you can find every reason in the world to be against a comprehensive bill. It's easy to find something to be against in this bill. All it takes is to take one little aspect of it and ignore the comprehensive nature and how good it is.

I knew this was going to be an explosive issue. It's easy to hold up somebody who is here and working hard as a political target. I would like to get this bill done for a lot of reasons. I'd like to get it done because it's the right thing to do. I'd like to get it done because I happen to believe the approach that is now being discussed in the Senate is an approach that will actually solve the problem. I'd like to get it out of politics. I don't think it's good to be, you know, holding people up. We've been through immigration debates in this country, and they can bring out the worst, sometimes, in people. We're a land of immigrants.

I was touched yesterday when the kid from the Coast Guard Academy, ensign -- now ensign talked about his migrant grandfather from Mexico. And here's this guy, this man standing up in front of the President of the United States and his class, talking about serving America. He wasn't -- you know, his grandfather wasn't born here. I don't know what job he did -- I suspect it was probably manual labor. I don't know, I didn't ask him.

But I do know he spoke with pride. I do know he represents the best about what immigration can mean for America. You know, welcoming people here who want to work and realize the American Dream renews our spirit and soul. It's been the case throughout generations. And we have an opportunity to put a good law in place now -- right now. And it's going to be hard work. And sure politics will get involved. But the question is, will members of Congress rise above politics? I will. It's the right thing to have a comprehensive bill.

And so I'm going to continue to reach out to members of Congress from both parties, and call upon them to take the lead and show the political courage necessary to get the bill to my desk as quickly as possible.

I want to thank you for your interest.

END 11:51 A.M. EDT