George W. Bush on a path to citizenship for undocumented spouses

The remarkable thing about this 2001 letter from former President George W. Bush to Congress, is the numbers: 500,000 undocumented immigrants eligible for green cards with their U.S. citizen or permanent resident relatives, a majority of whom are spouses and 200,000 who missed the deadline because of Congressional inaction. That was 10 years ago:

The White House,
Washington, May 1, 2001
Hon. J. Dennis Hastert,
Speaker of the House of Representatives,
Washington, DC.

Dear Mr. Speaker: I am a strong proponent of government
policies that recognize the importance of families and that
help to strengthen them. To the extent possible, I believe that
our immigration policies should reflect that philosophy. That
is why I support legislation to extend the window created under
section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act during
which qualified immigrants may obtain legal residence in the
United States without being forced to first leave the country
and their families for several years.

According to agency estimates, there are more than 500,000
undocumented immigrants in the country who are eligible to
become legal permanent residents, primarily because of their
family relationship with a citizen or legal permanent resident.
However, the law generally requires them to go back to their
home country to obtain a visa, and once they do so, they are
barred from returning to the United States for up to 10 years.
Many choose to risk remaining here illegally rather than to be
separated from their families for those many years. This issue
has been the subject of discussion in the Working Group that
Attorney General Ashcroft and Secretary of State Powell co-
chair with officials of the Mexican government, and should be
addressed to ensure a more orderly, legal, and humane migration
flow between our countries.

I encourage the Congress to consider whether there was
adequate time for persons eligible under section 245(i) to
apply for adjustment of status before the filing deadline
expired yesterday. Information indicates an estimated 200,000
were eligible to file but did not meet the deadline.
Preliminary reports suggest that many applicants were unable to
complete their paperwork in time, due in part to the fact that
the rules explaining how the provision would be applied were
not issued until late March. It remains in our national
interest to legitimize those resident immigrants, eligible for
legal status, and to welcome them as full participants of our
society. But we will only be able to do this if the path to
legalization encourages family reunification. For this reason,
I would support legislation that temporarily extends the
recently expired April 30, 2001, filing deadline, while
maintaining the requirement that the applicant was physically
present in the United States on December 21, 2000.

I look forward to working with you on this important
legislation.

Sincerely,
George Bush

Also remarkable: the civil language on strengthening the family, the use of “undocumented” rather than “illegal” and the assertion that undocumented husbands, wives, parents and children, are actually eligible for visas, not merely “deportable aliens.”

Did I mention that was (only) 10 years ago?

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