New York Times
By Peter Baker
July 10, 2013
President Obama and former President George W. Bush found themselves on the same side of a public policy debate on Wednesday as they promoted the virtues of immigration at a time when Congress is considering rewriting the rules to accept millions here illegally.
Mr. Obama’s White House released a new report arguing that a bill passed by the Senate creating a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million immigrants in the illegal shadow economy would spur job growth, innovation and productivity while strengthening Social Security.
“America has always been a nation of immigrants, and throughout the nation’s history, immigrants from around the globe have kept our work force vibrant, our businesses on the cutting edge, and helped to build the greatest economic engine in the world,” the White House report said. Mr. Obama planned to meet Wednesday morning with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss immigration legislation.
The report was released as Mr. Bush led a naturalization ceremony at his new presidential center just outside Dallas and used the opportunity to likewise tout the benefits of welcoming foreigners into the United States. Although Mr. Bush said he would not take a position on specific legislation, his speech was a reminder to Republicans that he has long believed it was necessary to overhaul the system in a way much like the Senate bill outlined.
“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,” Mr. Bush said at the ceremony, broadcast live over the Internet. “We can uphold our traditions of assimilating immigrants and honoring our heritage as a nation built on the rule of law.
“But we have a problem,” he added. “The laws governing the immigration system aren’t working. The system is broken. We’re now in an important debate in reforming those laws. And that’s good. I don’t intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy. But I do hope there is a positive resolution to the debate, and I hope during the debate that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind and we understand the contributions that immigrants make to our country.”
Mr. Bush’s speech came hours before House Republicans were scheduled to meet behind closed doors on Capitol Hill for a long discussion of how to handle immigration. While the Senate passed its bill creating a pathway to citizenship and toughening border enforcement on a bipartisan vote, House Republican leaders have made clear that they do not accept it. The session Wednesday could help the party’s leadership take the temperature of its caucus and formulate its approach going forward.
Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican majority leader, said he was worried that the administration might enforce the sections easing rules for illegal immigrants while not following through on the tougher border security provisions. “We need to go and make sure that there are definite matrixes, if you will, of accountability — how we can ensure that the border is secure, and that the law is being enforced,” Mr. Cantor told Sean Hannity of Fox News. He added: “We’re a country of laws, and it ought to be applied evenly and fairly to all.”
Whether Mr. Bush’s voice will be influential with House Republican critics is uncertain, but he does not have the same sway he once did in his own party. He made a big push for legislation similar to the Senate bill while he was president only to be thwarted in part by opposition from conservative Republicans and he viewed it as one of his biggest disappointments.
Mr. Bush has resisted delving too directly into current public policy debates, but the event at his presidential center not only added his voice to the debate, it teamed him up directly with Mr. Obama. After 20 immigrants were sworn in as new citizens while Mr. Bush watched, a video from Mr. Obama was played welcoming them. “You can help write the next great chapter in our American story and together we can keep the beacon that is America burning for all the world to see,” Mr. Obama said in the video. “I’m proud to welcome you as a new citizen of this country.”
After the ceremony, the Bush center was holding three panel discussions, one on how immigration has benefited Texas, another on the broader national economic benefits of immigration and the last on how immigrants serve the United States in military and civic spheres.
The Obama White House tried to quantify those benefits. It argued that in 2033, the American economy would be 5.4 percent larger if the Senate bill is passed by the House, productivity would be up by 1 percent, real wages would be up by 0.5 percent, deficits would be reduced by $850 billion and the solvency of the Social Security system would be extended by two years.
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