WASHINGTON – President Bush made a fresh election-season appeal to Hispanics Thursday by trumpeting his proposal to give temporary legal status to illegal immigrants, an initiative that stalled after his administration did little to push it through Congress.
Bush has only rarely mentioned the initiative since announcing it Jan. 7, and some lawmakers have accused him of neglecting it. The administration never provided Congress detailed guidance for legislation containing Bush's proposals, and bills that contained parts of them, some sponsored by Republicans, have not had hearings in the Republican-controlled Congress.
A bill to create a guest worker program for the agriculture industry has support from 60 senators, enough to pass the Senate, but Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., has yet to allow the bill to come up for a vote. The administration has never taken a stand on the bill.
"Our country must confront this basic fact: Jobs being generated in our growing economy are not being filled by American citizens, and these jobs represent an opportunity for workers who come from abroad, who want to put money on the table for their children," Bush said in remarks delivered by satellite to the group's annual convention.
"Yet, current law says to those workers, you must live in a massive, undocumented economy," Bush said. "And so we've got people in America working hard who live in fear and who are often exploited, and this system isn't fair and it's not right."
"The reason I made this proposal is because it's humane," the president said. "It would bring millions of hardworking people out of the shadows of American life. This proposal reflects the interest and best values of America, and Congress should pass it into law."
Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in the electorate and helped carry Bush to election in 2000.
Previous Republican presidential nominees failed to break 30 percent among Hispanic voters -- Bob Dole garnered 21 percent in 1996 and Bush's father got 25 percent in 1992. The president secured 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000.
Bush gave his standard pitch to Hispanics, and followed his custom of sprinkling his English with Spanish.
"We will keep working to make this nation a welcoming place for Hispanic people, a land of opportunity para todos [for all] who live here in America," he said.