White House Spokesman Scott McCLELLAN Monday briefing, on immigration, Iraq and other topics…
“Well, it’s not just — I mean, there are issues on both sides of the political spectrum, and there are issues relating to amnesty, there are issues — some that favor amnesty, some that don’t.”
from the white house, released 12:55 p.m. eastern time
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 27, 2006
TOPIC PAGE #
Iraq…………………………………1-2, 12, 15-17, 17-21
Immigration reform……………………………2-3, 8-11, 14
Iraq war justification…………………….3-7, 11-12, 12-13
Bulgaria-U.S. military cooperation……………………….17
* * * * *
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 27, 2006
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:24 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I don’t have anything to begin with today. You heard from the President earlier today on immigration reform, and his comprehensive approach to fixing our immigration system. So with that I will be glad to go directly to your questions.
Caren, go ahead.
Q I’d like to talk on morning — go ahead.
Q Is there a widening rift between U.S. and Iraqi forces? There seems to be a huge difference of opinion over the raid that took place, and even whether it was a mosque. And I was wondering, is the President concerned about this?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that you ought to look to our military, in terms of what the facts are on the ground. Our military put out a statement earlier. I don’t know if they provided additional briefings at this point; I’ve been in some meetings with the President. But I’m not going to get into trying to discuss the situation on the ground, particularly involving operations that take place there. I’ll leave that to our military to talk about. And they’re in the best position to talk about the facts. And I think they put out a statement laying out what this operation was about.
But what our focus is on is continuing to urge the government to move forward on forming — the Iraqi political leaders — to move forward on forming a government of national unity. And they continue to move forward, they continue to make progress. And we urge them to complete that process as soon as possible.
Q Could the Iraqi government’s version of events be very different?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know what you’re referring to when you say, “Iraqi government.” I don’t know what you’re referring to there.
Q Well, there are statements from the U.S. saying it wasn’t a mosque, and the Iraqis —
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s right. And the military statement that was put out said that this was a special — Iraqi special operations forces that was involved in this, and the United States was simply providing an advisory and supporting role.
Q Scott, on immigration, I’m just trying to get a sense. Would the President veto any bill that came to his desk that did not include some sort of temporary worker program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think it’s way too early to jump ahead in the legislative process. We’re still very early in the legislative process. The House has acted and passed legislation to continue to build upon the steps we’ve taken to strengthen our borders. Comprehensive immigration reform begins with securing our borders. And the President talked about a number of steps that we’ve taken in that respect.
Now the Senate has taken up this legislation, and they’re working to move forward on it. There are different ideas about how to move forward. The President said today that this is a difficult issue. There’s going to have to be compromise, and there are going to have to be tough choices. But the President believes very strongly that if we’re going to have a rational, orderly, and secure immigration system, then we must take a comprehensive approach. And that means we must have a temporary worker program as part of that legislation. And I think there are a number of congressional leaders that understand the importance of including a temporary worker program.
What a temporary worker program would do is help us relieve pressure on the border by allowing our Border Patrol agents to — and law enforcement officials to go after those that are coming here for the wrong reasons: the criminals, the drug dealers, terrorists.
And so that’s why — that’s why the President believes that you have to have that if you’re really going to fix the immigration system.
Q But the way this thing is shaping up, it seems like everybody is on the same page as far as establishing more secure borders and increasing enforcement in the interior. The bone of contention is going to be this temporary worker program. And it’s entirely conceivable —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it’s not just — I mean, there are issues on both sides of the political spectrum, and there are issues relating to amnesty, there are issues — some that favor amnesty, some that don’t. The President is firmly opposed to any sort of amnesty. But he does believe that we need to include a temporary worker program that will match willing workers with willing employers where Americans are not wanting to fill those jobs.
Q And won’t accept anything short of that? Anything that doesn’t include —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that at this point, the President is focused on how we can work together to solve this problem. This is a growing problem, and if we’re going to fix it, it needs to be in a comprehensive way. But I think it’s pretty early in the legislative process to start going beyond that at this point.
Helen, go ahead.
Q In a follow up for — from this morning’s briefing, I said that the President was aware in the run-up to the war that there were no weapons — no weapons — unconventional weapons had been found, and you sort of denied that it was in the memo.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this morning you said that the President was aware there were no weapons of mass destruction. And that is not what that article spelled out.
Q This is what it — the memo says: The President and Prime Minister acknowledge that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq in the run-up to the war.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, let me remind you and take you back to that time period, because there was a U.N. weapons inspection team that was looking at these issues. And that team put out I think some sort of interim report back in December of ’02, and that report showed that the regime was not coming clean. And we said at that time that the regime was continuing its pattern of non-cooperation and that if they continued —
Q They also said they didn’t find any weapons.
MR. McCLELLAN: — if they continued down that path, then we were prepared to use force. The President pursued a diplomatic solution. That’s why we went to the United Nations. That’s why we passed a 17th resolution that called on the regime to disclose or face serious consequences.
Q The memo says he wanted a war, basically that he was determined, and there were no weapons found.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Helen, that’s not an accurate assessment, and you know it. Because you covered —
Q Is this memo wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you covered us at that time period. And let me remind you, go back to that time period, look at the public comments that were made, look at the numerous statements that were made by the President of the United States. We were continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution, but we recognized that it was necessary to prepare and plan accordingly in the event we would need to use force, and that’s what we were doing at that time, as well.
But Saddam Hussein was given every opportunity to comply, and he continued to defy the international community — even when he was given one final opportunity, or face serious consequences. So let’s not rewrite history. It was very clear what was going on at the time.
Q Is this memo correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t — I haven’t seen that memo, Helen.
Q You haven’t seen The New York Times’ memo?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’ve seen The New York Times.
Q Well, let me just follow on that. There’s nothing in there that suggests that this is not an accurate reflection of a conversation that the President had with Prime Minister Blair, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that our public and private comments are fully consistent.
Q And therefore the guts of this appears to be accurate?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know what you’re talking about “guts” of. Let’s be specific in what we’re talking about.
Q Well, comments made about the inevitability of war, the President’s feeling about that at one —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the President was making numerous public comments at the time, David. You covered those comments. The use of force was a last option, but we recognized that it was necessary —
Q It was his mind frame, though.
MR. McCLELLAN: — to prepare and plan, and that’s what we were doing at the time. And if you go and look at the public comments at the time, going back to late in the fall and winter period of 2002, on into 2003, we were making it very clear what the regime needed to do. And if it didn’t do it, we were prepared to enforce the Security Council Resolution 1441, which called for serious consequences.
Q It didn’t call for going to war.
Q Let me ask you a more fundamental question. The President — according to this report of this memo — said to Prime Minister Blair that he didn’t expect that there would be any sectarian violence. That’s obviously proven — he was disproven. That is, in fact, the case that there is sectarian violence. Some worry about the prospects of civil war.
My question, though, is the President’s judgments, this administration’s judgments about the war that did not come to pass, that created a credibility problem with the American people with regard to how they view this war, does that not hurt the President when he now says, we need patience and we have to persevere?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, you made a very long statement there, and I’m not accepting the premise of the beginning of your question that that’s an accurate reflection of things. We’ve talked about what we anticipated and what we didn’t anticipate and what we prepared for.
And I think credibility is about doing what you say you’re going to do. We did what we said we were going to do. Tyrants around the world know that we mean what we say, because we followed through on the resolution that was passed at the Security Council and held Saddam Hussein’s regime to account. And he has been removed from power. The world is better off because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.
We are working to transform a troubled region of the world, and that goes directly to our own security. The Middle East has been a breeding ground for terrorism. We had a false sense of stability because of previous foreign policies of previous administrations. This President made the decision after September 11th that we were going to take a comprehensive approach to the war on terrorism, and that we were going to work to spread freedom.
Q You’re getting off point.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it’s very much on point.
Q Well, if I was too long-winded, let me just — let me just be more precise.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q The President assumed incorrectly, hindsight tells us, that there would not be sectarian violence after the invasion. Is that correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there were certain things that we anticipated, and certain things that we didn’t anticipate. The President has talked publicly about what some of those were. And we’ve also worked to adapt and adjust to circumstances on the ground. Any time you’re engaged in a war — and the President talked about this issue last week — things aren’t going to go necessarily according to the plans. You’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to be able to adapt and adjust to the circumstances on the ground. And that’s exactly what we have done.
We know that the terrorists have made this the central front in the war on terrorism. They want to spread sectarian violence and create civil war. But the Iraqi political leaders and Iraqi religious leaders have come together, and they said, we need to move forward, we need to continue to move forward on forming a government that represents all Iraqis. The Iraqi army has held together. They have shown that they can perform well and help restore calm and restraint. And that’s important, too. Now, there are certain areas where they didn’t. But I think you have to look at the full picture. And just to make comments like that doesn’t take a look at the full picture.
Jim, go ahead.
Q The tone of our diplomats regarding trade with China has gotten blunt — much more blunt in recent months. And I’m wondering if this suggests that there’s a weariness within the administration with the carrot approach to trade with China? And if so, what kind of a stick is the administration willing to use?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we have some officials, including Cabinet Secretaries, that are visiting China as we speak, or on their way there, if they’re not there already. And they will be talking with Chinese leaders about some of these issues and the importance of China continuing to make progress and move forward on some of the commitments we’ve discussed in the past. Those relate to currency issues, it relates to international — I’m sorry, intellectual property rights, certainly human rights issues is an issue that we’ve continued to raise with China, as well.
But it’s a complex relationship. The President looks forward to visiting with President Hu when he comes to the United States and talking about a broad range of issues, issues where we’re working together to address common security threats and other issues where we would like to see more progress. And I think part of the message that our Cabinet officials are taking is that China needs to continue to move forward on these certain areas.
Q Getting back, as to a stick. Right now, the only stick seems to be Senator Schumer’s and Lindsey Graham. Does the administration have something —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has made it very clear that’s he’s committed to free trade. But he’s also committed to fair trade. And we want to see a level playing field. And there are some steps that China is committed to. We want to see them continue to move forward on those steps. I don’t want to get ahead of the meetings that are taking place with our Cabinet officials. I want to let those meetings take place. We’ll be talking directly with Chinese leaders about these issues. I’m sure there are issues that the President is going to discuss with President Hu when he is here, as well.
Q Can you give us a description of what sort of things the President is doing right now in terms of working with lawmakers? Is the President making phone calls? And what’s the give and take back and forth with the Judiciary Committee today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about on immigration?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we’ve had a number of conversations and meetings with congressional leaders. The President has met recently with a number of congressional leaders. This is an issue that has come up because it’s a pressing legislative priority. Now we recognize this is going to take some time to address this issue. It’s a difficult issue. Otherwise it would have already been solved. And Congress has acted and taken some important steps when it comes to securing our borders and interior enforcement, two things that the President talked about today. But the President also believes it’s important to include that temporary worker program. He’s going to continue —
Q Is he calling senators?
MR. McCLELLAN: There’s no updates on calls that he makes. As you know, I try to keep you updated on those when he does make them. But he will continue, and he went out publicly today, obviously, to highlight the importance of moving forward in a comprehensive way.
There are three key elements to fixing our immigration system, and they all reinforce one another. The President believes that if you’re going to truly fix the system, you’ve got move forward on each of these elements. And that’s what he was highlighting today in his remarks.
Q Does the possibility —
MR. McCLELLAN: But I assure you that we’re in close contact with congressional leaders about moving forward on this priority.
Q And so what is the White House position, what is the President’s view of the possibility that an immigration bill will not come out of the Judiciary Committee in the next day, and the Senate Majority Leader therefore would put up strictly a border security bill? Does the President think that that’s still a good process step?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, certainly, addressing border security is something that we’re all committed to. I think Jim pointed that our earlier when he was asking his question. I think all of us are committed to continuing to take steps to strengthen our border. We have increased funding for border security by some 66 percent since the President came into office. The President talked today about how we’ve significantly increased the number of Border Patrol agents, as well. And he also talked about the new technologies that we’re deploying along the border to help stop people from coming across the border illegally. And he also talked about some of the barriers we’re putting place, whether they’re vehicle barriers or fencing in urban areas. Those are all important aspects. And we need to continue to build upon that.
We’ve accomplished much, but there’s much more to do. I would point you to the results. There’s some positive results we’re seeing. And if you look at the number of people that we have apprehended and returned over the course of the administration, that’s a fairly significant number, including several hundred thousand criminals.
So I would view it as a good start, but the President recognizes that you have to take a comprehensive approach if you’re going to fix the system.
Q But you’re not discouraging the Senate from moving forward with what could be the Majority Leaders’ bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President is encouraging Congress to move forward in a comprehensive way, but it’s still pretty early in the legislative process.
Q So you are discouraging the Senate Majority Leader’s bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I talk about what we’re for and what we’re doing. You’re asking me to talk about what we’re not doing, and what we’re against. I’m encouraging Congress to move forward in a comprehensive way. That’s what the President did today in his remarks. That’s what we will continue to do. But certainly, when you ask about Senator Frist’s legislation, I would describe it as a good start to addressing this. But we have to do it in a comprehensive way. And so we’re pleased that the leaders in the Senate are talking about moving forward on a temporary worker program, as well.
Go ahead, April.
Q Scott, on the President’s temporary guest worker program, in 2005, Mexican President Vicente Fox said, “Mexicans take jobs not even black people want to do.” And today, Secretary — HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson elaborated on the comment saying, “We did not like what Vicente Fox said, but it has merits to it — many of the jobs that Mexicans takes coming across the border are the jobs that blacks, whites and Asians don’t want.” Last year when Vicente Fox made his statement, the administration backed away from it, denounced it and everything. Is the administration embracing that comment now, in light of the Cancun meeting?
Q April, I haven’t seen what Secretary Jackson said. And we did speak to that issue at the time, I believe, as you just pointed out. What we’re doing is as we go into the discussions in Cancun, we’ll be talking about the importance of all of us meeting our responsibilities when it comes to addressing immigration issues — and that means border security, as well.
All of us have responsibilities to secure our borders and to address these issues. And the President has a good relationship with President Fox. He looks forward to talking with him about this issue, among others.
Q Those comments specifically?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q Those comments —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we addressed that at the time, April.
Q No, but will the President — because there’s a cloud over it now. The administration distanced itself from it, and here you have an African American department head embracing it.
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven’t seen what he said today.
Q Well, I have the statements if you would like to hear them.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can share that with me, and I’ll take a look at it later.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q Scott, on Iraq, the Manning Memo also alleges that in this private meeting, the President told Prime Minister Blair that one option was to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Did the President really contemplate that as an option since it would be breaking U.S. law?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ed, this was a meeting that took place back in January of 2003. Even if I knew exactly what was said in that meeting, I wouldn’t get into discussing private conversations between world leaders like this. Again, I reiterate to you, the comments that we were making publicly and privately are fully consistent with one another.
Q Is the President concerned that the explosion today in Tal Afar — that’s one of the places he highlighted last week where things were turning around, there were bright spots, some of the good news —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you’re asking me to make some sort of attack near Tal Afar —
Q Yes, it’s at least 30 people dead, 30 more wounded outside a recruitment center.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t have all the facts surrounding that. I would also encourage you to — if such an attack did take place there, look at what the motivations are. We know that the terrorists try to grab headlines, and that they target progress to try to gain attention and to try derail the transition to democracy. But I can’t speak to this specific incident that just took place today. I don’t know all the facts regarding that. I think that’s best to direct to our military forces in Iraq.
Q Scott, had the President decided on the 31st of January to go to war with Iraq regardless of whether there was a second U.N. resolution, and regardless of whether weapons of mass destruction were found?
MR. McCLELLAN: We were preparing in case it was going to be necessary, but we were continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution in that 2003 time period. And all the — there was a lot of public comments made at the time, leading up to the decision to go in and use force, and remember, even 48 hours before we began Operation Iraqi Freedom, Saddam Hussein and his sons were given one final opportunity to leave the country and avoid serious consequences.
Q So would you dispute what’s in this memo, which says that, in fact, that decision had been made by January the 31st, and say that the President had not decided to go to war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I was asked that earlier, and I think I addressed that when I just said we were continuing to pursue a diplomatic course. You can go back and look at all the public comments at the time. The President made numerous public comments. You can look at other officials in the administration and what we were saying, but Saddam Hussein — that’s why I pointed back to — remember, there’s a December report, or interim report by the weapons inspector, the United Nations weapons inspector, and it showed that the regime was not coming clean.
We said that they were continuing their pattern of non-cooperation at the time. And we also made it very clear that war was the last option, but if the regime was not going to come clean, then we were prepared to move forward and use force.
Q Did the President talk about several ways to provoke a confrontation with Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that question when Ed asked his question.
Q Scott, the Israeli elections are underway, or about to be underway. Does the U.S. have any special message, especially for Israel’s detractors, now — the situation with Hamas, al Qaeda and Israel and so forth?
MR. McCLELLAN: As you know, that’s a matter for the Israeli people to decide, and we’ll let the elections take place and then we can talk about it further at that point.
Q Are U.S. troops on any special alert?
MR. McCLELLAN: Any special alert in the Middle East? You can ask the Pentagon.
Q Scott, on the Cancun meeting, what does the President want President Fox to do to help the President further his immigration legislation here in Congress? Is there anything that he’s going to be asking of Fox to do?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, with both leaders, Prime Minister Harper and President Fox, we have a much broader relationship and a deeper relationship than just one issue. Immigration is an issue that all of us need to work together to address, and all the leaders have, and all the countries have responsibilities to meet when it comes to securing our borders and making sure that people and goods can flow across the borders freely, but also making sure that those who are trying to cross the border to engage in criminal activity are not allowed to do so.
But, look, I’ll come back to talking about the trip as we move forward in the next day or two, and we can talk more about it at that point. The President participated in some interviews earlier today, as well.
Go ahead, Les.
Q Scott, a two-part. I’d be very grateful if you could give us a clarification of the President’s statement in Cleveland, “I made it clear, I’ll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel.” And my question: This does not mean that we will withhold such military might until after Israel is nuclear-bombed, does it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Les, I think that if you’re bringing up the issue relating to Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, we are pursuing a diplomatic solution to that matter. I think you’re jumping way ahead of things at this point —
Q No, the clarification — we will protect Israel, we won’t wait until after they’re bombed.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think there’s anything to clarify. The President has made that very clear before. They are a great friend and good ally, and the President —
Q So it will be before they are bombed.
MR. McCLELLAN: — has publicly expressed that view before.
Q Two months before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 in the case of Lawrence vs. Texas, laws against sodomy are unconstitutional, Senator Rick Santorum told the AP, if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual gay sex in your home, then you have the right to bigamy, incest, and adultery, you have the right to anything. And my question: Does the President disagree with this Republican Senator and will he ask the Justice Department to oppose the pro-polygamy lawsuit, Bronson vs. Swenson, or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, you might want to check with the Justice Department on what involvement they may have in any particular case. I don’t know about —
Q I want to know what the President — does he agree with Santorum?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you’ve heard the President’s views.
Q Scott, everything on the ground in Iraq is telling us that there’s now a process of what has been kind of a low-key ethnic cleansing where the Shiites and the Sunnis are starting to face off, there are killings in the night, everybody is looking on turf warfare to secure a certain turf.
MR. McCLELLAN: Everybody?
Q Well, look, in both — now in the Kurdish area, we see the Kurds and the Arabs and the surge of violence there, also indicating that they feel that this unity is going to be very, very short-term. My question is, what role do U.S. forces have in that kind of a situation? And what’s to prevent them from either having to take one of two sides in this kind of conflict, or getting —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to agree with your characterization, first of all. I think you’re not taking a look at the complete picture. If you take a look at the complete picture, you have an Iraqi — elected leaders of the Iraqi government that are in the process of moving forward on a forming a government of national unity. It’s important that they do that as quickly as possible. The sense of urgency for that is all the more prevalent now in the aftermath of some of the sectarian violence that has taken place.
I think the Iraqi people have made very clear that they want to chart a future of freedom. We saw that when more than 11 million — nearly 12 million Iraqi people showed up at the polls to cast their ballot for a constitutional elected government. And now it’s important that all leaders continue to urge calm and restraint. That’s what the religious leaders have been doing, that’s what Iraqi political leaders have been doing. And it’s important they move forward as quickly as possible.
Now, the President got asked about this question just last week, and he made it very clear that it’s Iraqi forces who are in the lead when it comes to addressing these issues. And our commanders have pointed out the Iraqi forces — General Dempsey, most recently — performed well.
Now, there are some areas where they may not have, but overall, they performed well in the aftermath of some of the attacks that took place last month, including the attack on the Golden Mosque.
Q There are some concerns, Scott, that if the situation continues to develop with the killings and the divisions that these Iraqi forces, all of whom belong to a specific religious group there, will simply take off and take —
MR. McCLELLAN: It didn’t happen in the aftermath of the attacks that took place. The Iraqi army held together. The Iraqi political leaders came together. The Iraqi religious leaders called for calm and restraint. So I’m looking at what happened. And the Iraqi people took a look into the abyss and they said, that’s not what we want. And they want their government to come together and form a unity government as quickly as possible. And that’s what we’re urging them to do. Democracy is about compromise and negotiation, and that’s what’s taking place right now. And they’re trying to work to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. That will help address the security front, as well.
Q Scott, before yesterday, the United States and Bulgaria signed an agreement to establish three big military bases for ten years, and they have decided to deploy 5,000-8,000 U.S. troops along the Greek borders. Since the — that the U.S. military presence in the Balkans is increasing with — recently with unusual speed, may we know the reasons of this new U.S.-Bulgarians strategic and military cooperation? Do you anticipate any enmity?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do I expect — do I anticipate any what?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we talked about that cooperation when we made that announcement the other day. I don’t know if I have anything to add to it. I’ll be glad to take a look at it if I do.
Q And one more question on Kosovo. Since the Kosovo talks in Vienna March 17th failed again for the second time without producing any results, and to restart again April 3rd, could you please comment, since we have thousands of American troops in that volatile — volatile area of the —
MR. McCLELLAN: Don’t have an update beyond what we have recently said at the State Department.
Go ahead, Nedra.
Q Yes, on the immigration. I wanted to clarify what the President said when he said he opposes amnesty. Does that mean that he thinks that illegal immigrants who are in this country and filling those jobs that he says are important to our country should be charged with a crime for breaking immigration laws? Or does he believe that they should be given these guest worker permits?
MR. McCLELLAN: He believes that they would need to get in line just like everybody else. That means they would get in the back of the line, because there are people who are already waiting in line seeking citizenship.
But what we’re talking about is a temporary worker program that would match willing worker with willing employer, where an American is not wanting to fill that job. The President also in his remarks called for increase in the number of green cards, recognizing that where the current level is, is not helping us address some of the issues regarding our immigration system.
Q But when he says get in the back of the line, he means while they stay here in the United States, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President is firmly opposed to amnesty, and he does not believe that we should provide an automatic path to citizenship. There are people that are already waiting in line, there are people who have come here legally, and anyone that gets in line needs to get in line at the back — at the back of the line.
Q But if he’s opposed to amnesty, how does he propose that the United States address the crime that they committed of breaking immigration laws and sneaking into the country?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, these are all what the President talks about — the President laid out some clear principles for a temporary worker program, and there are a lot of issues that we have to work through, in terms of the details, with members of Congress, and that’s what we’re working to do. These are some difficult issues to address. The President said that it’s going to require compromise and tough choices, and we’ll continue working with Congress as they move forward on legislation to address these issues. But the President is firmly opposed to any kind of amnesty.
Q That’s an interesting question, because on the guest worker part of it, for those who are already here, that’s what the guest worker program would address — not any kind of amnesty, but a way to say, you’re here, you’re working, you’re part of the workforce; let’s give you some kind of legal umbrella —
MR. McCLELLAN: Legalize it, right.
Q — for a temporary period, at which point you’ll have to go back or get in the back of the line. But that’s the idea, is that if you’re already here, you’re illegal, you’re undocumented, but you’re working, this guest program would like to give you some kind of registration, if nothing else. Is that right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it would be a temporary program, but it would —
Q Right, it’s not amnesty, it’s a temporary program.
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s right. And the reason he talked about it, he believes that giving any sort of amnesty would be unfair to those who are playing by the rules and waiting in line. And so the President talked about that in his remarks earlier today. But when we’re talking about this temporary worker program, there are a large number of undocumented immigrants in this country. And the vast majority of those are coming here for one reason, and that’s simply to support their families back home. They have an opportunity to help support their families back home.
And so one of the things that we recognize is that these are jobs that Americans are not wanting to fill. This is a major problem in our immigration system. And if we’re going to fix it, then you have to have some sort of mechanism there to address this issue, as well. And that’s why the President proposed a temporary worker program.
Peter, go ahead.
Q Scott, is there no concern that having an amnesty program would be another incentive for another 11 million people —
MR. McCLELLAN: This isn’t — this is not. The President specifically said that in his remarks. He said, this — he is firmly opposed to any sort of amnesty. We’re talking about a temporary worker program.
Q I’m sorry, I meant to say temporary worker —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President — remember, back when he announced the principles, said that it would be everybody from that date previously, from prior to the date that he announced it.
Now, we’re working with Congress on the exact date, but for that very reason, he made that one of his principles that from the date that he — I believe it was back in early ’04 — I’d have to check my recollection — and he said that —
Q Is that going to be validated by a check stub, or something?
MR. McCLELLAN: — it would be for anybody that was already in this country as of that date, and that people after that date would not be eligible for that temporary worker program.
Q And how would that be validated?
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s one of the issues you would look to verify that, and you would have mechanisms to verify that.
Rick, go ahead.
Q Scott, would the administration or the President consider the right of automatic citizenship for people born in this country be part of this immigration overhaul? Because if you have guest workers here, and they have children here, are those children, then, automatically U.S. citizens?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q Would he like to see a change in the law now where people who are born in this country under whatever circumstance are automatically U.S. citizens? If you have a temporary worker program here where a couple is living and working here, and they’re supposed to return home, they have a child, and the child is born here, that child, under the present law, will be an American citizen —
MR. McCLELLAN: Right.
Q — which would then complicate efforts on their repatriation back to their home country along the line. So is there going to be any kind of a discussion of changing automatic citizenship if they’re born in the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard what the President proposed — increase in the number of green cards — but his plan would not provide any automatic citizenship or any automatic path to citizenship. He believes very strongly in that.
Q Well, then their children would not automatically become citizens if they are born in the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that’s current law, as you pointed out. Yes. So if you’re born here in America, you’re a citizen.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 12:55 P.M. EST