The last president who couldn't get Congress to act on immigration

Former U.S. President George W. Bush attends a game between the Southern Methodist Mustangs and the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium Aug. 31, 2014, in Waco, Texas.

Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

WASHINGTON (CBS) - Name the speaker: "Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people and Congress's failure to act on it is a disappointment."

Sounds like something President Obama has said countless times.

But the quote above was uttered by his predecessor, George W. Bush on June 28, 2007 -- after more than a year and a half of speeches designed to get Congress to enact immigration reform.

"The American people understand the status quo is unacceptable when it comes to our immigration laws," he said that day after the Senate voted 53-46 to block a vote on the immigration reform bill he wanted. Sixty votes were needed.

"A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn't find a common ground," said Mr. Bush. "It didn't work."

President Bush's plan called for the return of every illegal immigrant caught crossing the southwest board "with no exception." He also called for an increase in border control manpower and technology to keep illegal immigrants out of the U.S. in the first place.

Most controversial was his proposal to create a new "temporary worker program."

"This program would create a legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans will not do," said Mr. Bush in unveiling his strategy for border control and immigration reform.

"Workers would be able to register for legal status for a fixed period of time, and then be required to go home."

He said his program would help meet the demands of a growing economy and allow honest workers to provide for their families while respecting the law. It was one of the top priorities of Mr. Bush's second term, and he gave scores of speeches to persuade Congress and the American people to support it.

His media blitz for immigration reform also included an address to the nation from the Oval Office.

"We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair."

President Bush called for the following in his pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform:

  • Doubling the number of border patrol officers by adding 6,000 personnel to their ranks;
  • Using the National Guard to beef up patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border without, he promised, "militariz[ing] the southern border;"
  • Ending the practice known as "catch and release," where illegal immigrants were released from custody if their home country refused to take them back.

But Mr. Bush also said he disagreed with those in and out of Congress calling for the deportation of every illegal immigrant.

"It is neither wise, nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border," he said.

He also called for giving some of the long-time undocumented a path to U.S. citizenship, saying, "I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, to pay their taxes, to learn English, and to work in a job for a number of years."

President Bush felt people who met those conditions should be able to apply for citizenship, "but approval would not be automatic," and he said they'd have to "wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law."

He insisted his plan was not amnesty, though critics called it that. Ultimately, Mr. Bush's proposals passed the House but after 19 months of pitching his plan, it was derailed in the Senate. At the end of his presidency, he said he should have made a bigger push for immigration reform instead of trying to reform the Social Security system.

He always felt that the failure of his immigration reform effort resulted in the assumption by some that Republicans don't like immigrants. "Now, that may be fair or unfair, but that's the image that came out," Mr. Bush said, the week before his presidency ended.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.