Bush White House and U.S. Immigration Policy

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) has proposed a bill to create armed citizen militias along the U.S.-Mexico border. Alex Chadwick and David Greene discuss the Bush administration's reaction to the legislation, and a new White House push to change the nation's immigration policy.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

We wanted a reaction from Mr. Bush's administration from the comments from the congressman. We're speaking now with NPR White House correspondent David Greene in Washington.

David, what would the White House say to those remarks?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Well, it's always been a pretty prickly issue for them to deal with, Alex. When the question of whether citizens can be armed and patrol the borders on their own has come up, White House aides have always treaded really delicately. I mean, they've said, `Look, you know, citizens should be reporting suspicious activities. They should be doing that; it's a responsibility they've had since 9/11.' But we can't have armed bands of citizens, in the words of the White House, `taking matters into their own hands,' because that's really dangerous.

But there's no doubt that Congressman Culberson represents the real problem that the president has on this issue, that there's a wing of his party that is very against opening up the borders at all. It's a political issue for them. Their constituents get riled up by it.

On the other hand, the president knows that Hispanic voters have been coming to his party in large numbers, and one of the quickest ways to stop that would be to allow a lot of the rhetoric from people like Culberson to get out there and be perceived as the voice of the Republican Party. So it's real trouble for him and tough political waters.

CHADWICK: Well, let me just raise this. You have the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, calling yesterday for the US and Mexico to get together and do something about immigration policy because the problems along the border are so bad at this point. And there's an article on the front page of The Wall Street Journal this morning saying that, indeed, the Bush administration wants to do something. What are they going to do?

GREENE: Well, it looks like this issue is finally coming back. I mean, earlier this year, the president took a stab; it really divided his party, things kind of stalled. Right now the White House is working with a lot of business interests to put together a campaign that they hope will be perhaps the final pitch, the final sale. It will talk a lot about tougher border security, but also talk about the importance to business interests, to agricultural firms and other companies who need a lot of immigrants to fill their work force. And they hope that they can find the right message and the right balance to get something through, but we're coming up to a congressional election year. It's not going to be easy.

CHADWICK: I just wonder how uncomfortable the White House is with a Republican congressman from Texas accusing the president of being soft on terrorists...

GREENE: Yeah.

CHADWICK: ...which is what Mr. Culberson said, `There are terrorists coming across the border, and the president isn't doing anything.'

GREENE: It is. It was pretty striking. I mean, the White House has had some Republicans opposing it on issues like Social Security and on trade, but not to the extent and not to the level of rhetoric that we're seeing from members like Congressman Culberson. And he's not alone. I mean, there are dozens of Republicans who agree with him and support his proposal, so it is very uncomfortable. But the president--as a former governor of Texas, he seems to really believe in this issue. And when you hear him talk about it, more so than perhaps any other issue, he seems very passionate and knows a lot about it. There's no doubt about that.

CHADWICK: NPR White House correspondent David Greene. Thanks, David.

GREENE: Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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