WASHINGTON – President Bush challenged lawmakers on Friday to have the political courage to pass an immigration bill amid intense pressure from critics who call it amnesty and advocates who believe the current system is broken.
Bush stressed that while voting for the bill might be politically risky, he does not think the measure itself is risky.
"This is a difficult issue for a lot of folks," the president said. "I understand that. But because it's difficult probably means we need to work doubly hard to get it done. And now's the time to get it done.
"No matter how difficult it may seem for some politically, I strongly believe it's in this nation's interest for people here in Washington to show courage and resolve and pass a comprehensive immigration reform."
Bush was working to bolster support for a bipartisan measure — one of his top domestic priorities — that lawmakers will address when they return from recess early next week. A bill being discussed would legalize millions of illegal immigrants, tighten border security and mandate that employers verify they are hiring legal workers.
The bill includes conservative-backed initiatives such as the worker verification program to prevent illegal immigrants from getting jobs, and a new point system to prioritize skills and education over family in deciding who can immigrate in the future.
Liberals decry the point scheme as unfair to families and are vehemently opposed to a guest worker program that would allow laborers to come to the U.S. for temporary stints without a guarantee they would be able to stay and eventually gain citizenship.
But it also includes a long-sought liberal priority: granting legal status to the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. Conservatives view that as an unacceptable amnesty program.
"This bill isn't amnesty," Bush said. "For those who call it amnesty, they're just trying to, in my judgment, frighten people about the bill. This bill is one that says we recognize that you're here illegally and there's a consequence for it. We can argue about the consequences, but you can't argue about the fact that there are consequences in this bill for people who have broken our law."