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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 9, 2007
Press Gaggle by Gordon Johndroe
Aboard Air Force One
En route Yuma, Arizona
8:39 A.M. CDT
MR. JOHNDROE: We're on our way to Yuma, Arizona, where the President will make remarks on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. He visited the Yuma border area last year, spoke to the nation about this important issue in May, and reiterated his call for immigration legislation in the State of the Union this year.
This is an important national priority, but also for the President this is a matter of deep conviction. He will talk about working with members of both parties on comprehensive reform that accomplishes five clear objectives: one, securing the border; two, a temporary worker program; third, holding employers accountable for the workers they hire; fourth, resolving the status of the millions of illegal immigrants already here; and, fifth, finding new ways to help newcomers assimilate into our society.
After arriving, the President will receive a briefing on unmanned aerial vehicles and how they are used to help secure our borders. The President will then participate in a three-stop tour of a Yuma sector border. Stop one is a National Guard entry identification team at a National Guard observation post. Stop two is a border fence construction area. At stop three he'll see some border infrastructure work that has been completed.
Also, the jobs numbers released on Friday -- 180,000 new jobs in March and a drop in the unemployment rate from 4.4 percent -- highlight one more reason why we need comprehensive immigration reform.
On another note, it's now been 63 days since the President asked Congress to fund our troops. It's good to see the Senate returning to work this week; we hope the House comes back soon, because it is clear the Democrats in Congress need to sit down and negotiate with themselves first, before they talk to anybody else about getting legislation done -- legislation that doesn't, one, micromanage our generals in Baghdad and their strategy for success; two, set arbitrary timetables; three, make cuts to funding for programs that help the Iraqis achieve a political solution; four, include ridiculous, non-emergency pork barrel spending; and, five, doesn't cutoff all funding, as some senators have suggested -- a move that would only serve to mandate a defeat that will abandon the people of Iraq to terrorists and extremists and leave our troops in the field without the money they need.
Given that a number of senators and members are saying they will fully fund the troops, it would be unfortunate if they continue down the path that forces the President to reluctantly veto a bill. But if that is the only way to get this done, let's get it over with so our troops can get the funding they need.
With that, do you have any questions?
Q With the tensions over the Iraq funding bill, how can you make progress on immigration reform, when there are these tensions with the Democrats?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, I think the President is hopeful and confident that we can make progress on a number of issues. Yes, there are a lot of issues that there is disagreement on -- as you mentioned, the Iraq war supplemental funding. But we're having productive conversations with members from both sides of the aisle in both Houses about comprehensive immigration reform, and there are a number of proposals floating around and a number of discussions going on and the President is hopeful and feels confident that we'll be able to get something done on this important issue.
Q So does one issue not affect another?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think that while sometimes one issue may dominate the headlines of the day, there's a lot of quiet work that goes on underneath the surface so that we can get some legislation done on important issues like immigration or education. And so sometimes some issues are the dominant news-maker, but I think the work is still getting done.
Q Is there quiet progress on Social Security?
MR. JOHNDROE: I would say there's quiet progress on a number of fronts, but right now, obviously, the priorities are getting the Iraq emergency war supplemental funding done, and today, for the President to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Q Nancy Pelosi said that she wants bipartisan support, as many as 70 Republicans to join this in the House. Kennedy said the same thing in the Senate, wants it to be a bipartisan bill. What does the President have to do in order to persuade Republicans to move on the immigration bill? And, also, do you think it's right that they're demanding that it be bipartisan? They can pass this by themselves; they control both Houses.
MR. JOHNDROE: This is such a heated and emotional issue for people in this country, and a subject that the President takes very seriously. And I think he's put forth a proposal that meets the need for stronger border enforcement, but also provides a way that, frankly, strengthens the rule of law by imposing a penalty on those who broke the law to enter the country, and setting a high bar in order for them to show that they want to be model citizens, and the need to learn English, learn our history and that sort of thing.
So I think there are a number of proposals out there. The President will talk today about these five main objectives, and these are areas that I think members of both parties will be able to come together on.
Q But should the House pass a bill without Republican support, should Democrats do this, or is Pelosi right to demand 70 Republicans join this?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think -- let's see where this goes. I don't want to answer the hypothetical roll call vote already. I think what the President is focused on, and what Secretaries Chertoff and Gutierrez are focused on are getting the best bill possible.
Q Where does the President stand on this proposal for a Z visa in which immigrants would -- a three-year visa they would pay $3,500 for?
MR. JOHNDROE: I've seen a lot of the news reports on that. There are a lot of proposals floating around out there. I don't want to negotiate from here. I'm going to let Secretaries Chertoff and Gutierrez do that with members.
Q Gordon, what about the President's role in this? Some lawmakers, I believe in both parties, have said that to get it done, the President is going to not just be committed to the issue but get involved in it. Has he done that, or does he plan to do that?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, the President has already spoken to some members about immigration reform this year, and I think you'll see him continue to reach out and have these discussions. We have a number of members traveling today, and so I think this is something the President is going to be involved in.
Q Can you explain why we're going back to Yuma, the second time in a year, given the number of places he could be going to make his point?
MR. JOHNDROE: Sure. I mean, it's been almost one year since the President was last here in Yuma. He is going to dedicate a new Border Patrol station. But the main purpose is to highlight the progress that has been made. The Yuma Border Patrol sector has significantly improved the statistics as far as apprehensions and detentions because of a stronger emphasis on border enforcement. And the President will see some of the new technologies. I mentioned unmanned aerial vehicles. We'll also see some of the border infrastructure put in place that the Border Patrol and National Guard can use -- paved roads, additional lighting, unmanned sensors, that sort of thing.
So what he's coming here to see and to highlight is demonstrable progress in securing the border.
Q Do you have any numbers?
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes, the President will talk about specific numbers in his remarks today, and we'll get those to you.
Q Have you got any reaction to Muqtada al Sadr's urging his followers to rise up against the U.S. forces in Iraq?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, the reports I've seen are that Sadr has urged his various militias, who are, again I remind everyone, operating outside the rule of law in Iraq, to not fight Iraqi security forces. And I think this sort of comment is not surprising, given these Iraqi security forces are having some success against the Jaish al Mahdi militias. And so we, the United States, and you heard Prime Minister Maliki say, everyone operating outside the rule of law need to -- will be dealt with.
And I note today that Sadr called for massive protests. I'm not sure that we've seen that, those numbers materialize and the numbers that he was seeking in his call from his hangout in Iran. But Iraq, four years on, is now a place where people can freely gather and express their opinions. And that was something they could not do under Saddam. And while we have much more progress ahead of us -- the United States, the coalition and Iraqis have much more to do -- this is a country that has come a long way from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.
Q Can you tell us what members of Congress will be going back after Yuma? Who is on board now?
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes, the members are meeting us in Yuma -- Senator Kyl, as well as, I believe, four members of Congress. And they are Congressman Shadegg, Congressman Flake -- Jeff Flake, Congressman Trent Franks, Congressman Harry Mitchell.
Okay. Thank you all.
END 8:51 A.M. CDT
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