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Bush calls for relaxed immigration rules

President Bush speaks Tuesday in front of a group of newly sworn-in U.S. citizens  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- On his first trip to New York since assuming office, President Bush on Tuesday called for relaxed U.S. immigration rules at an appropriately historic location.

The event took place just off Manhattan at Ellis Island, where ancestors of millions of Americans first set foot in the United States, to acknowledge immigrants' importance to the nation and its development.

In his address, Bush committed the Immigration and Naturalization Service to a goal of processing all applications for U.S. citizenship in six months from start to finish.

"We should spare families the hardship of separation while one member is awaiting a Green Card," Bush said. "I support providing an extension of the temporary window that allows people to file for legal residency without having to return to their country of origin." He then urged Congress to act swiftly on the matter.

Message Board: Tackling immigration  

"100 million Americans can draw a straight line from the life they know today, to a moment inside this hall," Bush said. "Immigration is not a problem to be solved, it is a sign of a confident and successful nation. Their arrival should be greeted not with suspicion and resentment, but with openness and courtesy."

Before Bush spoke, dozens of recent immigrants attending the event officially became U.S. citizens by raising their right hands and pledging allegiance to the nation.

Bush was hosted by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, and Republicans, New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki. During his remarks, the governor said all four of his grandparents came to America through Ellis Island.

Clinton traveled from Washington to New York with the president on Air Force One, the first time she has flown with Bush.

Despite the city's and state's GOP leadership, voters cast ballots overwhelmingly for Bush's 2000 opponent for president, Democrat Al Gore. Gore defeated Bush in the state 59 percent to 34.5 percent and New York state has a 5-3 Democratic voter registration advantage, according to The Associated Press.

Bush has visited 34 states since assuming office in January but until Tuesday had not visited New York, the nation's third most populated, the AP reported.

Ellis Island was the entry point for 12 million immigrants who entered the U.S. between 1892 and 1954. It was declared part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965. After a six-year, $162 million renovation, it was reopened to the public as a museum in 1990.

Bush was later scheduled finish his day trip to New York by presenting the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Cardinal John O'Connor, who died in May 2000. The ceremony was set for New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, the site of O'Connor's tomb.

It was O'Connor to whom Bush apologized during the presidential race after campaigning at Bob Jones University, whose leader once described the Roman Catholic Church as a "Satanic cult," according to The Associated Press.

• Immigration and Naturalization Service

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