Political and religious leaders, including President Bush and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, urged immigrant rights supporters Friday not to take part in next week’s boycotts of work and school, but to hold peaceful rallies or other events after the workday is done.
“You know, I’m not a supporter of boycotts,” Bush said at a Rose Garden news conference.
He also reiterated his support for an overhaul of immigration laws that went beyond the enforcement-only approach being pushed by some of his Republican allies.
“I am a supporter of comprehensive immigration” legislation, Bush said, although he remained mum on whether he would back a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as part of such a bill.
A House bill, passed in December, that focused solely on cracking down on illegal immigration -- including criminalizing illegal residency in the U.S. -- has sparked large protests in Los Angeles and elsewhere in recent weeks.
Some Latino groups have called on legal and illegal immigrants to boycott work and school Monday to draw attention to their role in the nation’s economy and society. But other Latino groups -- as well as senators working to pass an immigration bill that is less punitive than the House version -- have urged immigrants to stay on the job and in school.
Bush warned protesters that their efforts could backfire and stir anti-immigrant sentiment.
“I think it’s very important for people, when they do express themselves, they continue to do so in a peaceful way, in a respectful way -- respectful of how highly charged this debate can become,” the president said. “One of the things that’s very important is when we debate this issue that we not lose our national soul.”
Mahony, head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, echoed that point during his first lobbying trip to Capitol Hill in years to push for immigration legislation.
“Let’s take steps that bring about a positive result,” Mahony said. “The positive result we’re looking for is good legislation. In my opinion, we do best by having people at work, having students in school.”
He suggested that those interested in the immigration debate could spend time studying the issue Monday, and perhaps “write letters to their House representatives and their senators” expressing their opinions.
Mahony and Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick had breakfast at the White House with Bush’s top political aide, Karl Rove.
Later, Mahony, McCarrick and Boston Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley met with congressional leaders and urged them to pass a bill that would include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as well as improved enforcement of immigration laws at the border and the work site.
Under the bill, illegal residency would remain a civil offense.
“This is a historic moment, and we are counting on the sense of American fairness and justice and compassion to forge wonderful, bipartisan legislation that will benefit the entire country going forward,” O’Malley said.
After those meetings, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) signaled a new willingness to compromise on disputes that had stymied action on an immigration bill in the chamber.
Reid has sought assurances from Frist that after Senate passage of a bill, GOP senators named to negotiate a final product with the House in a conference committee would insist on a broader approach to immigration overhaul, including provisions that would offer “earned citizenship” to some illegal immigrants.
“We know what the leaders in the House have said about our legislation in the Senate. They don’t like it,” Reid said. “We have to be protected in conference, and we will be.”
He said he was willing to compromise on his previous demands over whom Frist should name to the committee.
Reid had said he wanted Republicans from the Senate Judiciary Committee who support the broader legislative approach; on Friday, he said he would accept GOP conference committee members with comparable views on the issue.
“I’m willing to be reasonable on this,” Reid said.
In return, Reid said he would be willing to end the block he had placed on introduction of amendments to the Senate’s immigration bill, a procedural tactic that halted debate on the measure this month.
“We’re willing to work our way through these amendments,” Reid said. “If [Republicans] want to have these votes, we’ll have the votes.”
Frist said he was encouraged by Reid’s comments.
Mahony said that at his breakfast with Rove, the political strategist assured him that Bush supported the kind of legislation the cardinal wanted.
“Mr. Rove has said the president wants very much to get a comprehensive bill passed, wants to sign it,” Mahony said. “We emphasized that it had to have all the elements that we think are essential.... Mr. Rove responded well to that.”