In Arizona, Bush addresses immigration legislation

President Bush on Monday took the first steps on the long road to signing a comprehensive immigration bill into law this year.

“Now is the year to get it done,” Bush said during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.

The president said he has been working with members of both parties to craft a compromise that would both strengthen border security and include a guest-worker program as well as ways for some illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S.

Despite the presidential attention and a Congress controlled by Democrats, many observers believe passing such legislation is an uphill climb. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that she would need significant Republican support to pass a comprehensive bill over the objections of many in her own caucus.

Bush told members of the Border Patrol that he thinks the time is right for such legislation.

“People have got deep convictions,” the president said. “My hope is that we can have a serious and civil and conclusive debate. And so we’ll continue to work with members of both political parties. I think the atmosphere up there is good right now.”

Bush acknowledged that a tough road lies ahead for those seeking comprehensive reforms.

“It’s important for people not to give up, no matter how hard it looks from a legislative perspective,” Bush stated.

En route to Arizona, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters aboard Air Force One that the White House has had “productive” talks with members from both parties.

Johndroe added that while tensions over Iraq run high between the president and Democrats in Congress, both sides are able to set aside differences as they work toward solutions of other problems, such as immigration.

With many conservatives worried that “comprehensive immigration reform” is code for “amnesty,” Bush stressed that his plan is not a blanket amnesty proposal.

“Amnesty is the forgiveness of an offense without penalty,” the president said. “I oppose amnesty, and I think most people in the United States Congress oppose amnesty.”

Bush advocates a system that allows “people who meet a reasonable number of conditions and pay a penalty of time and money” to apply for citizenship.

“But approval would not be automatic, and they would have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law,” the president added.