Watch CBSN Live

Bush: Immigration Bill "Right Thing To Do"

President George W. Bush challenged lawmakers on Friday to have the political courage to pass an immigration bill amid intense pressure from critics who call it amnesty and advocates who believe the current system is broken.

Addressing members of his administration as well as representatives of business, religious, Hispanic and immigrant rights' groups, Mr. Bush stressing his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform and inferred to Congress that, while voting for the bill might be politically risky, he does not think the measure itself is risky.

"This is a difficult issue for a lot of folks," the president said. "I understand that. But because it's difficult probably means we need to work doubly hard to get it done. And now's the time to get it done.

"No matter how difficult it may seem for some politically, I strongly believe it's in this nation's interest for people here in Washington to show courage and resolve and pass a comprehensive immigration reform."

Mr. Bush was working to bolster support for a bipartisan measure — one of his top domestic priorities — that lawmakers will address when they return from recess early next week. A bill being discussed would legalize millions of illegal immigrants, tighten border security and mandate that employers verify they are hiring legal workers.

The bill includes conservative-backed initiatives such as the worker verification program to prevent illegal immigrants from getting jobs, and a new point system to prioritize skills and education over family in deciding who can immigrate in the future.

Liberals decry the point scheme as unfair to families and are vehemently opposed to a guest worker program that would let laborers come to the U.S. for temporary stints without a guarantee they would be able to stay and eventually gain citizenship.

But it also includes a long-sought liberal priority — granting legal status to the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. Conservatives view that as an unacceptable amnesty program.

"It is impossible for this country to rout people out of our society and 'send them home.' It's just not going to happen," Mr. Bush said.

But the president defended the bill against charges that illegal immigrants would be allowed to stay in spite of having broken to law in coming to this country.

"This bill isn't amnesty," Mr. Bush said. "For those who call it amnesty, they're just trying to, in my judgment, frighten people about the bill. This bill is one that says we recognize that you're here illegally and there's a consequence for it. We can argue about the consequences, but you can't argue about the fact that there are consequences in this bill for people who have broken our law."

Mr. Bush said passing the legislation — which he said he looked forward to signing — was "the right thing to do."

"It's the right approach to take. It is right to address a problem. It is right to work with people in both political parties. It is right to argue for what you believe, and recognize that compromise might be necessary to move the bill along. And it is right to take political risk for members of the United States Congress."

He also promised that the White House would cooperate with Congress to make sure any obstacles to the bill are smoothed out. "You've got an administration that looks forward to working with people," he said. "I will do my best to make sure that this debate does not denigrate into name-calling and finger-pointing."

The call to reform current immigration law is getting vociferous help not just from the bully pulpit but from the farmlands as well.

CBS News correspondent Jim Krasula reports that some farmers in North Carolina — fearing a farm labor crisis this fall — have decided not to plant crops, uncertain they will have enough help for the harvest.

"We were short on labor last year, [and] we're probably going to be short on labor this year," Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, told Krasula. He said the tightening of the border has made it more difficult for farmers.

"We've got a mess right now in terms of our immigration system in this country," Wooten said. "We know this is not a perfect piece of legislation, but it's certainly better than the status quo where we are right now."

He said that without reform, not only will agricultural jobs be lost, but also more farmland in North Carolina will be sold for development.

CBS affiliate WGCL correspondent Sarah Parker reported on dueling protests held in Marietta, Ga., — people on opposite sides of the immigration issue on opposite sides of the street.

Some waved signs denouncing the reform bill as amnesty, and wore signs saying, "Kick Me I Am A Citizen."

Kim Brown opposes the immigration bill: "In the 80s they said, 'OK, group hug, forgive and forget, moving forward. We'll change. And we haven't. We haven't changed anything. So we're not learning from history we're repeating it."

One opponent, speaking to a driver pausing at the intersection, called the immigration reform bill "snake oil."

Across the street stood Jessica Wallace, who supports the immigration bill. "It just makes me feel like there's a lot of hatred [on the other side]. I just don't get it."

Rich Pellegrino, director of the Immigrant Alliance of Cobb Cherokee, said his group was demonstrating in support of the bill in order to put a human face on the issue of immigration. "We're all immigrants," he told Parker. "I'm from an Italian background, they called us 'wops.' You know what 'wop' means? 'Without Papers.'"