In reporting on President Bush's visit to Arizona to promote his immigration reform proposals, ABC World News Tonight anchor Elizabeth Vargas and CBS White House correspondent Bill Plante claimed that Bush was "passionate" about "allowing migrants a chance" but completely ignored the fact that the White House reportedly supported a controversial immigration bill proposed by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) that would have made it a felony to be an illegal resident of the United States.
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In reporting on President Bush's May 18 trip to Yuma, Arizona, to promote the immigration reform proposals he laid out in a May 15 speech, ABC World News Tonight anchor Elizabeth Vargas claimed that "it was clear he [Bush] is passionate about the very issue that has so many members of his party up in arms: allowing people now here illegally the chance to become American citizens." Similarly, CBS White House correspondent Bill Plante reported: "People who are close to the president say that allowing migrants a chance is a very personal issue for him." Vargas and Plante completely ignored, however, the fact that the White House -- in spite of Bush's "passion" for "allowing migrants a chance" -- reportedly supported controversial provisions of an immigration bill proposed by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), including a provision making it a criminal offense to be an illegal resident of the United States. Reports note that the White House even pushed to have that provision -- which makes illegal presence a felony -- lowered to a misdemeanor in order to facilitate criminal prosecutions of illegal immigrants.
From the May 18 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight:
VARGAS: Good evening. We begin at one of the busiest illegal border crossings in the country. President Bush took his campaign for immigration reform to Yuma, Arizona, today. He stood at a place that has been a funnel for illegal immigrants and smugglers and made his case for a new border policy. He is proposing tougher security, including the deployment of more National Guard troops. But when he spoke to our reporter today, it was clear he is passionate about the very issue that has so many members of his own party up in arms: allowing people here now illegally the chance to become American citizens. In Yuma, our chief White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz, reports.
From the May 18 broadcast of CBS Evening News:
BUSH [video clip]: I can understand people being -- get excited about this issue. It's an issue that brings out emotions. People want our borders secure, but we've got to make sure that we treat people with respect and dignity.
PLANTE: People who are close to the president say that allowing migrants a chance is a very personal issue for him, dating back to his experiences as Governor of Texas, and that he'll keep working on it, even if it appears he can't win.
As Media Matters for America noted, however, Bush praised Sensenbrenner's bill when it passed the House on December 16, 2005. In a statement issued that day, Bush applauded the House "for passing a strong immigration reform bill" and urged "the Senate to take action on immigration reform so that I can sign a good bill into law." In a December 16, 2005, statement on the House floor, Sensenbrenner noted that the administration supported an amendment to the House bill to facilitate criminal prosecutions:
SENSENBRENNER: The administration subsequently requested the penalty for these crimes be lowered to 6 months. Making the first offense a felony, as the base bill would do, would require a grand jury indictment, a trial before a district court judge and a jury trial.
Also because it is a felony, the defendant would be able to get a lawyer at public expense if the defendant could not afford the lawyer. These requirements would mean that the government would seldom if ever actually use the new penalties. By leaving these offenses as misdemeanors, more prosecutions are likely to be brought against those aliens whose cases merit criminal prosecution.
For this reason, the amendment returns the sentence for illegal entry to its current 6 months and sets the penalty for unlawful presence at the same level.
Also, the Associated Press reported on May 17 that Sensenbrenner accused Bush of "turn[ing] his back on provisions of the House-passed bill," after advocating some of its more controversial features. According to the AP:
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who has pushed a tough border security bill through the House, accused President Bush on Wednesday of abandoning the legislation after asking for many of its provisions.
"He basically turned his back on provisions of the House-passed bill, a lot of which we were requested to put in the bill by the White House," Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., angrily told reporters in a conference call. "That was last fall when we were drafting the bill, and now the president appears not to be interested in it at all."
Sensenbrenner chairs the House Judiciary Committee and would be the House's chief negotiator on any final immigration package for Bush's signature. He said it was the White House that had requested two controversial felony provisions in the bill the House passed last winter.
"We worked very closely with White House in the fall in putting together the border security bill that the House passed," he said. "... What we heard in November and December, he seems to be going in the opposite direction in May. That is really at the crux of this irritation," he said of Bush.