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Bush pressures lawmakers to pass bill

WASHINGTON – President Bush challenged lawmakers on Friday to pass an immigration bill that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants despite the harsh criticism they’re hearing from voters and interest groups on both sides of the issue.It was Bush’s second personal plea in a week for support on the initiative – one of his top domestic priorities – part of a multi-front effort by his administration to bolster lawmakers in both parties as the Senate resumes a searing debate on immigration.”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 told a group of activists, lobbyists and analysts who have pushed for an overhaul.Lawmakers, at home during a weeklong recess, are hearing from conservatives who decry the measure as overly lenient and from liberals who are clamoring for its passage even as they complain it is filled with problems.Bush acknowledged those gripes, but he added, “The question people have to answer is, are we going to sacrifice the good for the sake of the perfect?”The president also took on those – mostly in his own party – who brand the bill as amnesty for lawbreakers.”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.”The legislation is the product of a bipartisan bargain that beefs up border security, mandates a verification system to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants and creates a new temporary worker system. It would institute a new point scheme for evaluating future would-be immigrants that prioritizes job qualifications over family ties.With Bush set to travel to Europe Monday for the annual G-8 summit of industrialized nations, White House Spokesman Tony Snow is to take up the president’s public-relations push in favor of the measure in appearances around the country next week.Two Cabinet members who helped with the agreement, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, also are pressing hard for its passage.After Bush’s remarks Friday, they urged the immigration activists and lobbyists to support the measure despite their many objections, according to attendees.”No one will get everything they want, but everyone will get something, and in the end, what we come up with is better for the country, and we all have to see it that way,” Gutierrez later told reporters.Chertoff said the measure “provides the most good outcome for the most people, recognizing that everyone’s going to be somewhat disappointed.”Even the administration is not thrilled with the emerging bill. A 200,000-visa annual cap the Senate added to the temporary worker program – proposed by Democrats and approved overwhelmingly – would cramp what officials call a vital legal channel for foreign laborers to meet U.S. labor demands. The original measure would have allowed at least 400,000 workers a year to enter through the program, escalating to as many as 600,000 if the market demanded it.”Two hundred thousand is not enough, and then we don’t have this escalator clause that we believe we need,” Gutierrez said.The secretaries also warned against changes that could upset the delicate balance struck by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans who reached the deal.Democrats are planning attempts to make the measure more family-friendly by allowing more immigration based on blood ties to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Republicans want to make the process whereby illegal immigrants can gain lawful status more onerous.And a bipartisan group wants to exempt hi-tech workers from a qualification point system – an idea that Chertoff suggested could put the measure in peril.”What I think would be very dangerous for the bill is for a particular special interest group to get a carve-out for its people,” he said.—The bill is S-1348.


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