The president and the peach man

George W. Bush explains immigration reform.

Tim Grieve
May 29, 2007 9:25PM (UTC)

George W. Bush spoke about the immigration reform bill Tuesday at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga. He said many, many words. Here are some of them:

"Thank you all very much. Please be seated, unless, of course, you don't have a chair ...


"I don't know whether you realize this or not, but the government originally planned to open this center inside the Capital Beltway. No one looks very sad that we didn't open it in front of the Capital Beltway. It's a spectacular place to have this center. It is a glorious place to live. I'm honored to be in your presence. Thanks for letting me come by and share some thoughts with you ...

"You know, in this immigration debate, oftentimes, people say, 'Well, they're not doing anything to protect the border.' Well, those folks just simply don't know what's going on. You do ...

"In the immigration debate you hear people say, 'Well, they're not doing anything to enforce the border.' They're wrong, and you know they're wrong ...


"You talk to your farmer friends or your nursery friends -- I remember the peach grower, Saxby, that you sent over to the White House. He's there saying to me, 'You've got to understand something, Mr. President: My business won't go forward unless I have some of these good people that are willing to work long hours in my peach orchard helping me harvest the crop' ...

"In other words, there has to be certain accomplishments in place before other aspects of the bill come into being.

"And here are some of those markers: increasing the number of Border Patrol agents. In other words, we said we're going to double them ...


"We're going to promote tamper-resistant identification cards. In other words if you're here working, you'll have a card that you can't tamper with, that some document forger can't foist off as a document for somebody to come and pick peaches here in Georgia.

"In other words, we've got a serious attempt in this bill -- and a real attempt -- to do what a lot of Americans want us to do, and that's enforce the border.


"The peach man said to me, he said, 'I can't find somebody from my hometown who wants to pick peaches. But I can find somebody who wants to put food on their table for a family from, you know, Mexico, for example' ...

"In other words, if you can come to our country on a temporary basis legally, you're not going to sneak across the border. Who wants to pay a coyote hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars when you can walk across and say, 'I'm going to have a temporary-work job here in this country. And here's my tamper -- you know, my tamper- resistant card' ...

"I'm sure you've heard some of the talk out there about people defining the bill. It's clear they haven't read the bill. They're speculating about what the bill says and they're trying to rile up people's emotions ...


"Let me explain how it works.

"Under the bill, those who want to stay in our country who have been here can apply for a Z visa. At some point in time, those who are coming to work will get temporary work visas. Those who have been here already can apply for a Z visa. To receive the visa, illegal workers must admit they violated the law and pay a meaningful penalty, pass a strict background check, hold a job, maintain a clean record, and eventually earn English -- learn English.

"That's how it works. It says, 'If you want to be here, here's what you have to do.' There is a consequence for having broken the law. As a result of a recent Senate amendment, they have to pay back taxes if they hadn't paid taxes, too. You're working hard. You pay taxes. People who have been here in this country ought to pay taxes, that's what it says.


"The hurdles to citizenship are going to be even higher. In other words, if somebody says, 'Fine, I'll take my Z visa, I'm out of the shadows now, I've got an opportunity to, you know, not hide in America, I'm going to continue doing the work I'm doing, I'm going to keep my record clean, I'll pay the penalties necessary so I can stay here.' That's what it says.

"But if you want to be a citizen, there's more hurdles. It says the Z visa worker would first have to pay an additional fine. In other words, 'You have broken the law and there's a consequence for breaking the law'; that's what the bill says.

"Secondly, you've got to return home to file an application for your green card. If you want to be a citizen, you pay a fine, you touch base home to apply for a green card, and then you take your place behind those who've played by the rules and have been waiting in line patiently to become a citizen.

"It's a good bill. It recognizes that we've got to treat people with respect, and it also recognizes we're a nation of laws ...


"You know, I was at the Coast Guard Academy the other day, and giving a speech there, and the president of the class, a Latino, talked with great pride in his voice about the fact that his grandfather was a migrant to the United States of America, and here he is addressing the Coast Guard Academy.

"I think it speaks volumes about the great promise of America. One of the reasons why is because his family assimilated into our society and into our culture.

"The key to unlocking the full promise of America is the ability to speak English. That's the language of our country. If you can speak English in this country and work hard and have dreams, you can make it. That's the great story of America. I believe it's true today like it was true yesterday as well."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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