ARTESIA, N.M. -- President Bush sought yesterday to minimize the differences that have divided the House and Senate over immigration, telling an audience of Border Patrol recruits that consensus is growing across the country for changes in immigration policy.
"It seems like there's nothing but disagreement on immigration policy in Washington," Bush said at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in southeastern New Mexico, about 100 miles from the Mexican border. "Yet, there's a growing consensus among all parties and all regions of the country that fundamental reforms are needed.
At the 2,540-acre campus, recruits undergo 19 weeks of training that includes physical workouts, vehicle pursuits, firearms use, self-defense and Spanish classes.
In May, Bush called for an increase of 6,000 officers in the Border Patrol by 2008 - a 50 percent increase. With Bush looking on, recruits demonstrated scenarios for capturing illegal immigrants, among them halting a vehicle and checking a train. Recruits used three rail cars, deployed on tracks in the middle of their campus, to show how to look for illegal immigrants smuggled in boxcars.
With temperatures near 100 degrees, Bush emphasized in a speech at the training center that despite the debate over immigration, there is agreement over the need to control the nation's borders "so that every illegal immigrant caught at the border" is sent home.
"We agree that the government needs to crack down on businesses that hire illegal workers," he said. "We agree that it's unacceptable to have millions of illegal immigrants living in our country beyond the reach of law and the protection of law. And we all agree that immigrants to America must assimilate into our society. They must embrace our values and learn to speak the English language."
Bush did not assert that there is agreement on a key part of his vision for an immigration overhaul: a temporary worker program that would require workers to return to their home countries after their visas expired. A large group of House Republicans oppose the idea, but Bush said a temporary worker program would "reduce the incentives for foreign workers to sneak across the border."
Bush said another part of his vision, which is also strongly opposed by House Republicans, "is the toughest part of the bill for Congress." It would allow some who are in the United States illegally to apply for citizenship if they paid a fine, paid any taxes due, learned English and could prove that they had been working for a number of years.
Bush's tone contrasted with the lack of developments in Washington, where lawmakers made no move toward resolving a procedural impasse that has kept House and Senate members from beginning negotiations over their differing versions of an immigration overhaul.
The House has passed legislation that focuses on border security and law enforcement at the workplace, while the Senate, in addition to calling for more border security, has approved a temporary worker program and a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants now in the country.
Negotiations between the chambers have been stalled by the fact that the Senate bill would require illegal immigrants to pay back taxes and fines in order to gain legal status. The Constitution says that only the House can initiate bills that raise revenues. Republicans say procedural maneuvers are necessary to conform, but there has been no agreement on how to proceed.
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who is the Senate Democratic leader, called for Bush to push congressional Republicans to act.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, remarked on areas of agreement between the Senate and House, noting that the main author of the House bill, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican, has spoken positively about a temporary worker program.
After his speech, Bush looked on as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff swore in Ralph Basham as the new commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Basham, a former Secret Service agent, headed the security detail for Bush's father when he was vice president.
Johanna Neuman writes for the Los Angeles Times.