.- President George Bush tackled the immigration debate with America’s Hispanic community directly yesterday and laid out his vision of immigration reform at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast.
“[Our] immigration system isn't working today, and it needs to be fixed,” he told the crowd of Hispanic leaders and various officials gathered at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, Washington, D.C. “Our borders need to be secure.”
Bush said “the system is broken” because there are too many people “living in the shadows of our society beyond the reach of the law.”
“We are a land of immigrants,” he said to applause. “We're a compassionate people. We're also a nation of laws, and being a nation of laws is not contradictory with being a compassionate country.”
The Hispanic community has been at the heart of the ongoing immigration debate. Each year, thousands of Hispanics cross the Mexico-U.S. border seeking a better life and a decent wage to raise their families. Many of these workers, however, have entered the U.S. and are working in the country illegally. The immigration reform is mostly targeting this problem.
Last month, large demonstrations were held throughout the country, calling for reform that is just and humane. The majority of demonstrators were from the Hispanic community. Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles has been leading this call in the Catholic community. The cardinal has told his priests that they are not to refuse people-including illegal immigrants-who come to their parishes or pastoral centers for assistance.
At the prayer breakfast, Bush outlined his vision for immigration reform, which includes better border patrols and a temporary worker program. The program would allow migrant workers to enter the country and to work legally and then return to their countries in an orderly way. Employers who hire people illegally would be fined.
“We must have a system that says you don't have to sneak across our border in order to find work. You don't need to risk your life,” he said during the June 8 breakfast.
Bush also spoke about the current amnesty-deportation debate in Washington, saying that he supports neither option.
“There's a reasonable middle ground. There's a reasonable way to uphold our laws and treat people with respect, and that is this: if you've paid your taxes, you've been here for a while, you can prove that you've been working, you've got a clean background; if you want to become a citizen you pay a fine, you learn English, you learn the values and ideals of America that have made us one nation under God,” he said.
“And then if you want to be a citizen, you can get in line -- but in the back of the line, not the front of the line. You can wait in line, like those who have been legally here in America,” he stated.
Bush recognized immigrants as hard-working and motivated people. He said he was inspired by a visit he paid the previous day to the Juan Diego Center in Omaha, run by Catholic Charities.
There, he spoke with immigrants who wanted to realize their dreams and give their families a better life. In particular, he spoke about Salvador Piña who sought help from the Juan Diego Center. Piña now owns his own auto repair shop and has three employees.
The president also recognized the Hispanic community as a community of faith, urging its members to continue serving society according to their Christian values.
“The daily example of our Hispanic communities reminds us that strong faith and strong families can build a better future for all,” he said. “We're a more hopeful society because men and women of Hispanic descent have put their faith and values into action.”
“The best way to strengthen this country is for people [of faith] such as yourself to continue to reach out to a neighbor in need, to listen to the universal call to love a neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself, to mentor to a child who needs to learn to read, to feed the hungry, to provide shelter for the homeless,” he said.