Bush to Outline 5-Point Immigration Plan

Rep. Jack Kingston (R.-Ga.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, tells me that President Bush will outline a five-point plan tonight on national TV that emphasizes border security and a temporary guest-worker program.

Kingston was one of several House Republicans invited to participate in a conference call this afternoon hosted by White House advisers Karl Rove and Fran Townsend.

Here are the five points Bush will emphasize, according to Kingston:

  1. Border security: Under Bush’s watch, the number of Border Patrol agents has increased from 9,000 to 12,000 and more than 6 million illegal aliens have been sent home. In an effort to bolster security at the border, Bush will order the deployment of up to 6,000 National Guardsmen to play a support role. He will also ask for money to build a virtual border fence, which includes increasing the number cameras, roads and UAVs.
  2. Temporary guest-worker program: The White House will embrace a plan similar to the Hagel-Martinez compromise legislation in the Senate.
  3. Interior enforcement: Bush will endorse a bio-metric ID card, although it’s unclear if this will be required for all Americans to make it work.
  4. Deportation: The White House will propose an end to the catch-and-release program. As a practical matter, Kingston was told there’s no way to deport the more than 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.
  5. Assimilation: Bush will tell immigrants they must become part of society and learn to share American ideals. There was no commitment to any type of test to reinforce the idea.

I asked Kingston about Rep. Charlie Norwood’s (R.-Ga.) suggestion that 36,000 troops are needed to secure the border—six times as many as Bush will reportedly propose.

“What we need to do is make sure that it’s an effective level [of troops],” Kingston said. “Maybe that’s 36,000 and maybe it’s 20,000, but it has to be high enough to take care of whatever the objective is.”

Bush’s National Guard plan won’t be fully phased in until 2008, Kingston said, although most of the troops will be deployed this year or next year.

As far as the guest-worker proposal, Kingston told me it’s success will be determined by the President’s ability to be convincing—not only to members of Congress, but also to the American people.

“Can he explain it in a way that people back home will say, ‘OK, maybe I was wrong on that. I’ll go along with you’?” Kingston said. “And I think that’s going to be the big challenge. Part of leadership is convincing people that you have a big picture view and your idea is the best way to settle the issue.”

Kingston said he asked how many illegal immigrants would be deported. He expressed frustration to me when Rove and Townsend were unable to pinpoint an exact number, saying instead that it depends on what the Senate and House decide.

Overall, Kingston said he found the five-point plan a good start, even though he doesn’t agree with every single component.

“I think this is a good step and I’m glad they’re getting in the game,” he told me. “They’re making a major commitment and I’ll tell you why this is important. If you’re the President of the United States and you announce a plan or an initiative, you’re going to have to deliver. And so this is a commitment from him to deliver. And if we can’t deliver we’re in trouble.”

Joining Kingston and other House Republican leaders on the call were Representatives Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Chris Cannon (Utah), Bob Beauprez (Colo.), Ray LaHood (Ill.), Dan Lungren (Calif.), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Fla.). Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.), chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, wasn’t invited to participate.

UPDATE — 5:41 p.m.: The White House press office just release excerpts of Bush’s speech tonight. Here’s a sampling of what you can expect to hear.

On the President’s vision for comprehensive immigration reform:

“We are a Nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws.  We are also a Nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways.  These are not contradictory goals – America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time.  We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair.”  

On Border Security:

“Since I became President, we have increased funding for border security by 66 percent, and expanded the Border Patrol from about 9,000 to 12,000 agents. . . .we have apprehended and sent home about six million people entering America illegally.

“Despite this progress, we do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that.   Tonight I am calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border.”  

On the Importance of a Temporary Worker Program to relieve pressure on the border:

“The reality is that there are many people on the other side of our border who will do anything to come to America to work and build a better life.  They walk across miles of desert in the summer heat, or hide in the back of 18-wheelers to reach our country.  This creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop. To secure the border effectively we must reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across.”  

On enforcing our laws:

“. . . we need to hold employers to account for the workers they hire.  It is against the law to hire someone who is in this country illegally.  Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees, because of the widespread problem of document fraud.  Therefore, comprehensive immigration reform must include a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility . . .   

“A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law – and leave employers with no excuse for violating it.  And by making it harder for illegal immigrants to find work in our country, we would discourage people from crossing the border illegally in the first place.”

On the President’s opposition to amnesty:

“. . . we must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here.  They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship.  This is amnesty, and I oppose it.  Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully – and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration.”   

On assimilation:

“. . . we must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one Nation out of many peoples.  The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans.  Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language.”

On the tone of the debate:

“We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.”