Immigration is not the most spoken of but the president took time out last week to air his views on an issue that is never less than difficult and fractious.
In comments delivered as he signed the Homeland Security Appropriations Act for 2006, the president reached for a mixed back of imagery, one that presented the issue of security at the border in terms of stopping terrorists and illegal immigrants in one fell swoop.
America, said Mr. Bush, welcomed all who came here respecting the nation’s laws. The country was strengthened by those who came seeking opportunity.
To preserve that opportunity, however, immigration laws had be respected and vigorously enforced. This, he said, was a matter of justice and national security.
The bill signed by the president included $7.5 billion in funding to address what Mr. Bush said was the serious problem of illegal immigration.
With this funding, he said, the U.S. would gain control of its borders and make America more secure.
The bill also contains provisions for a program called “expedited removal” which is supposed to replace the current practice of so-called “catch and release” in which detained illegal immigrants are released pending a court hearing, but all too often don’t show up.
The goal was clear, said the president. It was to return every single illegal entrant to their country of origin “with no exceptions.”
The White House, in a statement, said that because enforcement alone would not work the president had proposed comprehensive immigration reform.
This amounts to the much touted temporary worker program.
There was no mention, however, of a possible path to legality which, in the views of many legislators, is an essential element in any reform that can claim the title of comprehensive.
What the president said will not please advocates for the undocumented. But Mr. Bush has shown a hand. Congress should follow fast and decide on its agreed reply.
Then, at least, we will have the true beginnings of a process that might yet lead to the kind reform that will keep the bad guys out while giving hope to those who want to have a chance to prove that they, too, can be patriotic Americans.