Bush Pitches Im­mi­gra­tion Plan at Col­lege

The Washington Post Sunday - - Politics - By Michael Abramowitz

MI­AMI, April 28 — Mi­ami Dade Col­lege has been try­ing to get a pres­i­dent to speak at grad­u­a­tion for nearly a decade, and this year Pres­i­dent Bush ac­cepted, us­ing the com­mence­ment speech here Satur­day to out­line his vi­sion of an as­sim­i­lat­ing Amer­ica.

The White House saw it as an ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting: With more than 160,000 stu­dents, Mi­ami Dade bills it­self as one of the largest in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion in the coun­try, with a di­verse stu­dent body that in­cludes many chil­dren of im­mi­grants. The flags of 64 coun­tries, rep­re­sent­ing grad­u­ates’ back­grounds, were car­ried in the cere- mony’s open­ing pa­rade.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors say the school also has a heavy slice of Cuban Amer­i­cans, one of Bush’s strong­est con­stituen­cies, so there seemed to be lit­tle fear of the kind of hos­tile greet­ing the pres­i­dent might re­ceive on other cam­puses. Only stu­dents, fam­ily and fac­ulty were given tick­ets to the heav­ily guarded event.

Hun­dreds of pro­test­ers staged an “un­wel­com­ing party” on the streets out­side Mi­ami Dade’s Ken­dall cam­pus, while inside the gym­na­sium, about 1,200 grad­u­ates and their rel­a­tives gave Bush a bois­ter­ous re­cep­tion. He touted the mer­its of as­sim­i­la­tion, ex­tolled the role im­mi­grants play in so­ci­ety — and took a strong shot at the com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment in Cuba, just 90 miles away.

“In Ha­vana and other Cuban cities, there are peo­ple just like you who are at­tend­ing school, and dream­ing of a bet­ter life,” Bush said to warm ap­plause. “Un­for­tu­nately those dreams are sti­fled by a cruel dic­ta­tor­ship that de­nies all free­dom in the name of a dark and dis­cred­ited ide­ol­ogy.”

Bush also pro­moted his plan to over­haul im­mi­gra­tion laws, re­peat­ing his mantra that all el­e­ments of the prob­lem, in­clud­ing border se­cu­rity and how to han­dle il­le­gal im­mi­grants, must be ad­dressed in one pack­age if change is go­ing to work. He did not spec­ify how he plans to deal with peo­ple in the United States il­le­gally, say­ing only that he wants to “re­solve the sta­tus of those al­ready here, with­out amnesty and with­out an­i­mos­ity.”

Oth­er­wise the pres­i­dent’s 20minute ad­dress steered largely away from pol­icy, as Bush hailed Mi­ami Dade grad­u­ates who have done well, along with a num­ber of the im­mi­grants grad­u­at­ing Satur­day, such as Jimmy Za­p­ata, an émi­gré from Colom­bia who served in the Marines dur­ing the in­va­sion of Iraq.

An over­haul of im­mi­gra­tion laws may well be Bush’s last op­por­tu­nity to make his mark on do­mes­tic pol­icy in a big way, and his aides have been qui­etly ne­go­ti­at­ing with key sen­a­tors in both par­ties on a bill that might be brought to the Se­nate floor as early as next month. Bush is try­ing to thread the nee­dle be­tween those who want tougher en­force­ment and those who want to cre­ate a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gal im­mi­grants who have been in the coun­try for years.

“We are work­ing to build con­sen­sus,” Bush said in his weekly ra­dio ad­dress, also de­voted to im­mi­gra­tion. “I am pleased that some of those who had doubts about com­pre­hen­sive re­form last year are now open to sup­port­ing it.”

The com­mence­ment ad­dress was the first of three that Bush is sched­uled to give this spring. He will also speak at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and at St. Vin­cent Col­lege, a small lib­eral arts col­lege in Penn­syl­va­nia whose pres­i­dent is his for­mer aide H. James Towey. Mi­ami Dade is not the first two-year-col­lege where Bush has spo­ken: He gave the com­mence­ment ad­dress last year at Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

Stu­dents and fac­ulty seemed pleased to have Bush and to put pol­i­tics aside. Ken­dall Pres­i­dent Gre­gory W. Gray said nearly half of the grad­u­ates are the first in their fam­ily to get a col­lege de­gree, and that was a big­ger deal to most than pol­i­tics. “There’s a lot of peo­ple who have the anti-Bush fo­cus, but most peo­ple are fo­cused on cel­e­brat­ing,” he said.

“It’s not re­ally a po­lit­i­cal cam­pus,” said Christo­pher A. Miles, the stu­dent gov­ern­ment as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent. “A lot of peo­ple were shocked” when they heard that the pres­i­dent was speak­ing, he added.

While Bush steered clear of pol­i­tics in his ad­dress, he did mix in some pol­i­tick­ing on his day trip to Florida, stop­ping at a private fundraiser for the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee in Key Bis­cayne be­fore the com­mence­ment. The event raised about $1 mil­lion, an RNC spokes­woman said.

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