Analysis of Bush's Illegal Immigration Initiative

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Alex Chadwick speaks with NPR senior political correspondent Mara Liasson about President Bush's immigration policy initiative. In a speech delivered Monday, Bush called for a guest worker program and better enforcement of immigration laws.


From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, reaction to the resignation of a disgraced California congressman.

First, the lead. President Bush, in El Paso, Texas, today, is wrapping up his trip to the Southwest border states to push his plans for immigration reform. The president proposes both more border guards and a plan to entice illegal workers into at least a temporary legal status that would eventually require them to go back to their original homelands. NPR senior political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us.

Mara, welcome to the show.

And how are people responding to the president's immigration push, within his party and within Congress and the country?

MARA LIASSON reporting:

Well, within his party, he has a real rift that he's trying to straddle between the grassroots base, conservative base, who are really in an uproar about illegal immigration and want to focus on border security and enforcement, but not the guest worker half of the president's plan. And that's why his emphasis yesterday was on security and enforcement and stopping illegal immigration. He also did talk about the comprehensive legislation which would provide a guest worker plan. That is more aimed at the business community, which very much wants to rationalize this whole system of immigration so that it can play by the rules and get the workers it needs. So he's got a problem in his own party.

He used to use immigration as a symbol of compassionate conservatism. If you remember, he talked in the--when he first ran for president--about "moms and dads coming across the border to put food on their families." That's an exact quote. He also talked about how family values don't stop at the Rio Grande. He used to emphasize the legalization end or the quasi-legalization end. But now with his own grass roots up in arms about immigration, the emphasis has changed.

So the reaction to his plan? Business was happy, but worried that all they're going to get out of Congress is a border security bill and not comprehensive guest worker legislation. Some of the grass roots are saying they don't want anything to do with the guest worker plan at all because that, in effect, would be amnesty for illegal immigrants.

CHADWICK: Let me ask you about something else: fund-raising for Republicans. Mr. Bush, last night, was helping Senator Jon Kyl in Phoenix, Arizona; a luncheon today with a Republican congresswoman, Marilyn Musgrave, in Denver. How is he now as someone to go out with Republican candidates? Because some aren't so anxious to have him around.

LIASSON: Well, coming to a fund-raiser for the Republican donor class is really different than going out and campaigning for a Republican in a district or a state where the president's approval rating is very low. There are plenty of Republicans who wouldn't want him campaigning by their sides, but they're happy to have him come in and raise money for them. I haven't seen any evidence yet--maybe we'll start seeing it in the future--that his ability as a fund-raiser has diminished as his approval ratings have dropped.

CHADWICK: All right, Mara. We'll have more on that in a moment with John Dickerson from Slate. But first, Iraq. The president is speaking about Iraq tomorrow. What do you expect him to say?

LIASSON: I think that we'll hear the president talk about progress that's been made in Iraq--how many Iraqi army battalions can stand on their own--and that will be laying the groundwork for an eventual drawdown of American troops that will begin next year. I think the administration hopes that after the December 15th vote in Iraq, by the end of the year--which, of course, coincidentally coincides with the midterm elections here--there will be a drawdown of troops, possibly to a 100,000 troop level, that will show that Iraq is working, progress is being made and, yes, we are beginning to shrink our footprint there.

CHADWICK: NPR senior political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Alex.

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