Immigrant Workers: President Bush’s Remarks
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JIM LEHRER: President Bush’s call for a new approach to immigration. We begin with excerpts from what he said this afternoon at the White House.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: As a nation that values immigration and depends on immigration, we should have immigration laws that work and make us proud. Yet today, we do not. Instead, we see many employers turning to the illegal labor market.
We see millions of hard-working men and women condemned to fear and insecurity in a massive, undocumented economy. Illegal entry across our borders makes more difficult the urgent task of securing the homeland.
The system is not working. I propose a new temporary worker program that will match willing foreign workers with willing American employers when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs.
This program will offer legal status as temporary workers to the millions of undocumented men and women now employed in the United States, and to those in foreign countries who seek to participate in the program and have been offered employment here.
This new system should be clear and efficient, so employers are able to find workers quickly and simply. All who participate in the temporary worker program must have a job, or if not living in the United States, a job offer.
The legal status granted by this program will last three years and will be renewable, but it will have an end. All participants will be issued a temporary worker card that will allow them to travel back and forth between their home and the United States without fear of being denied reentry into our country. (Applause)
This program expects temporary workers to return permanently to their home countries after their period of work in the United States has expired, and there should be financial incentives for them to do so.
I will work with foreign governments on a plan to give temporary workers credit when they enter their own nation’s retirement system for the time they have worked in America. I also support making it easier for temporary workers to contribute a portion of their earnings to tax-preferred savings accounts, money they can collect as they return to their native countries.
Some temporary workers will make the decision to pursue American citizenship. Those who make this choice will be allowed to apply in the normal way. They will not be given unfair advantage over people who have followed legal procedures from the start. I oppose amnesty, placing undocumented workers on the automatic path to citizenship. Granting amnesty encourages the violation of our laws and perpetuates illegal immigration.
America’s a welcoming country, but citizenship must not be the automatic reward for violating the laws of America. (Applause) The citizenship line, however, is too long, and our current limits on legal immigration are too low.
My administration will work with the Congress to increase the annual number of green cards that can lead to citizenship. This new temporary worker program will bring more than economic benefits to America.
Our homeland will be more secure when we can better account for those who enter our country. Instead of the current situation in which millions of people are unknown, unknown to the law, law enforcement will face fewer problems with undocumented workers and will be better able to focus on the true threats to our nation from criminals and terrorists.
When temporary workers can travel legally and freely, there will be more efficient management of our borders, and more effective enforcement against those who pose a true threat to our country.