Friday, July 09, 2004 | President touts immigration plan to Hispanic group | News for Denton, Texas | AP: Texas

President Bush told the nation's largest Hispanic rights group Thursday that America should make a place, albeit a temporary one, for a huge number of immigrants now working illegally in the country.

In a brief address via satellite from Washington, D.C., Bush also praised the fast-growing Hispanic population as a fertile ground for the creation of small businesses that are helping to fuel the U.S. economy.

"Our economy is stronger and our society is better off because Hispanic businesses are thriving and creating jobs across America," he told delegates to the League of United Latin American Citizens' annual convention.

John Kerry, the expected Democratic nominee for president, is scheduled to address LULAC on Saturday morning.

Bush took a veiled swipe at Kerry on the subject of education, saying that politicians undermine success in the classroom when they criticize his administration's efforts to increase standardized testing for students.

"They are choosing bureaucracy over our children," the president said during his 15-minute speech.

Kerry doesn't oppose testing as a way to boost accountability in public schools, but he says the Bush administration's system is too rigid and too driven by ideology, and that the president's tax cuts have hurt education funding.

Bush touted his tax cuts to Thursday's audience, saying they have helped Hispanic businesses and the rest of the economy.

With a population of nearly 40 million, Hispanics are the nation's largest minority group.

The research group HispanTelligence predicts that by 2010 the number of Hispanic-owned enterprises will grow from about 2 million to 3.2 million, and that their combined revenue will jump 70 percent to more than $450 billion.

But at the other end of the economy are Hispanics working in the United States illegally, and for them Bush said he will urge Congress to approve a temporary-worker program that would allow them to fill jobs unwanted by Americans.

"I know this proposal would be good for our economy," Bush said. "It will bring millions of hard-working people out of the shadows of American life. ... America is the nation of the open door, and it must stay that way."

Hector Flores, LULAC's national president, said afterward that he's glad the president is thinking about immigration, but said his plan doesn't go far enough.

"We need a fair and just immigration law," said Flores, who supports "earned legalization" for those undocumented workers — particularly those from Latin America — who have been in the country for many years.

"They are no different than other immigrant groups coming to America through Ellis Island," Flores said, referring to past waves of U.S. workers from abroad. "I'm not advocating an amnesty (for all illegal immigrants), but I don't think a temporary guest-worker program is the answer, either."

Bush, who pleased the LULAC crowd by peppering his speech with a little Spanish, has led the Republican Party's efforts to gain stature among Hispanic voters, who have traditionally cast their ballots for Democrats.

He got 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2000 presidential election, well up from the 21 percent received by GOP nominee Bob Dole in 1996.


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