WASHINGTON – President Bush pushed for immigration legislation on the eve of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo.
"You may have noticed this celebration is not on the Cinco de Mayo," Bush said about the holiday, which celebrates Mexican troops' defeat of a French army on May 5, 1862. "It's on the Cuatro de Mayo. It's such an important holiday we thought we would start early."
While Latina singer Graciela Beltran got the loudest applause, the guests attending the East Room event cheered Bush's words about immigration — a contentious issue that has triggered large street demonstrations and produced divisions in both political parties.
"Our nation does not have to choose between being a compassionate society and a lawful society," he said. "A lawful society is one that enforces its laws and enforces its border."
Bush generally favors plans to give millions of illegal immigrants a chance at U.S. citizenship without leaving the country, but he has tempered his support because of opposition from conservative House Republicans. He supports strengthening U.S. borders, but also wants a guest worker program to let immigrants work for American businesses.
"I think we need to create a secure and legal channel for people to come to this country to work," he said. "It'll reduce the number of people trying to sneak across our border. It'll treat people humanely. It'll get rid of the coyotes and the document forgers."
Bush also reasserted his belief that immigrants should learn English. When "Nuestro Himno," a Spanish version of the national anthem, debuted recently, Bush said people who want to be U.S. citizens ought to learn to learn to sing the national anthem in English.
"Becoming an American is a great privilege and it carries responsibilities with it," he said. "Those who come here to start new lives in our country have a responsibility to understand what America is about and a responsibility to learn the English language so they can better understand our national character and participate fully in American life."