L.A. braces for protest, as Bush addresses 'emotional debate'
Pending legislation spurs tens of thousands to march
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- As thousands of people were expected to protest legislation cracking down on illegal immigrants on Saturday, President Bush said he planned to toughen enforcement of immigration laws.
"America is a nation of immigrants, and we're also a nation of laws," Bush said in his weekly radio address.
"When illegal immigrants know they will be caught and sent home, they will be less likely to break the rules, and our immigration system will be more orderly and secure."
The president acknowledged it was an "emotional debate" but continued "America does not have to choose between being a welcoming society and being a lawful society."
A march against proposed legislation in Congress was set for Saturday through downtown Los Angeles, California, a day after thousands of people staged similar demonstrations in Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere. (Watch crowds take over streets in Phoenix, Arizona -- 0:42)
Next week, the Senate will take up immigration overhaul, with at least four different proposals rattling around the Capitol.
Among the thorny issues the Senate will tackle is Bush's guest worker program for immigrants, which has proven unpopular with many of his fellow Republicans. Senators must also decide whether more than 11 million people already in the United States illegally will be given a chance to earn legal status -- a process critics dismiss as "amnesty."
An immigration bill that passed the House of Representatives in December makes entering the country illegally a felony and calls for construction of 700 miles of security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The House bill would also require employers to verify the immigration status of workers before hiring them, with increased fines for employers who fail to comply. The proposals have angered many Latinos.
"As we debate the immigration issue, we must remember there are hardworking individuals, doing jobs that Americans will not do, who are contributing to the economic vitality of our country," said Bush.
In Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday, police said 20,000 demonstrators marched to the office of Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, co-sponsor of a bill that would give illegal immigrants up to five years to leave the country, The Associated Press reported. The turnout clogged major thoroughfares in what officials said was one of the largest protests in the city's history. People also protested outside Kyl's Tucson office, according to AP.
Protesters "should be pleased that the Senate is probably going to address this in a much more comprehensive way," Kyl told the Tucson Citizen newspaper during a meeting with its editorial board, according to AP.
In Los Angeles, more than 2,700 students from at least eight high schools and junior high schools walked out Friday, district officials told AP. Some carried Mexican flags as they walked down the streets, police cruisers behind them.
Peach State protest
In Georgia, activists said tens of thousands of workers did not show up at their jobs Friday after calls for a work stoppage to protest a bill passed by the Georgia House on Thursday.
That bill, which has yet to gain Senate approval, would deny state services to adults living in the U.S. illegally and impose a 5 percent surcharge on wire transfers from illegal immigrants.
Supporters say the Georgia measure is vital to homeland security and frees up limited state services for people legally entitled to them. Opponents say it unfairly targets workers meeting the demands of some of the state's largest industries.
Teodoro Maus, an organizer of the Georgia protest, estimated as many as 80,000 Hispanics did not show up for work, AP reported. About 200 converged on the steps of the Georgia Capitol, some wrapped in Mexican flags and holding signs reading: "Don't panic, we're Hispanic" and "We have a dream, too."
Jennifer Garcia told AP she was worried what the proposal would do to her family. She said her husband is an illegal Mexican immigrant.
"If they send him back to Mexico, who's going to take care of them and me?" she asked AP. Garcia said of herself and her four children. "This is the United States. We need to come together and be a whole."
On Monday, Bush is to attend a naturalization ceremony in Washington where he will watch new citizens raise their right hands and swear to uphold the laws of the United States, according to The Associated Press. Later in the week, immigration likely will surface as a topic in Cancun, Mexico, where Bush is to meet with Mexico's President Vicente Fox, AP reported.
Bush said the government is trying to end a decades-long practice of releasing illegal immigrants soon after capture because of a lack of space in detention centers.
"We're adding more beds so we can hold the people we catch, and we're reducing the time it takes to send them back home," he said.
The president emphasized that a temporary worker program he's proposed would not provide amnesty to illegal immigrants in the United States. "For the sake of justice and for the sake of border security, I firmly oppose amnesty," Bush said.