Bush guest-worker plan lacks sup­port; Repub­li­cans eye border pro­tec­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

One hun­dred days into his all­out push to win an im­mi­gra­tion bill Pres­i­dent Bush has con­vinced House Repub­li­cans he is se­ri­ous about en­forc­ing the border, but he has failed to win their sup­port for his plan to cre­ate a guest-worker pro­gram or a path to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gal aliens.

“I’ve had a lot of con­ver­sa­tions with the pres­i­dent and I just try to make him un­der­stand that com­pre­hen­sive is fine, but the first thing we have to do is pro­tect the borders,” House Speaker J. Den­nis Hastert, Illi­nois Repub­li­can, told The Wash­ing­ton Times dur­ing a cam­paign stop for a fel­low Repub­li­can in Ari­zona two weeks ago. “Un­til you pro­tect the borders, any re­form with­out pro­tect­ing the borders is pre­ma­ture.”

He said that dur­ing a re­cent out­ing in his dis­trict, when he in­vited con­stituents to come see him in a park in the town of Ge­ne­seo, 150 peo­ple showed up and that with the ex­cep­tion of one wo­man, “ev­ery one of those peo­ple said se­cure the border first. It was amaz­ing.”

In fact, House Repub­li­cans are “stauncher than ever” that a border se­cu­rity bill must come first, said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

“I think he’s con­vinced us he’s se­ri­ous [about en­force­ment], but to me th­ese are only first steps. Be­fore we even con­sider any type of quote-un­quote com­pre­hen­sive leg­is­la­tion, we have to show we can con­trol the border — not that we want to, but that we can,” Mr. King said. “Speak­ing for my­self and, I be­lieve, a great ma­jor­ity of House Repub­li­cans, we have to see re­sults be­fore we con­sider go­ing any fur­ther. And I can’t see that hap­pen­ing in less than a year or 18 months.”

Mr. Bush be­gan his ma­jor push May 15 with a prime-time ad­dress in which he called for Na­tional Guard troops to as­sist on the border, promised to get tough on busi­nesses that hire il­le­gal aliens, and de­manded that Congress pass a bill that in­cludes a guest-worker pro­gram and a path to cit­i­zen­ship for most il­le­gal aliens.

But House Repub­li­cans say al­low­ing il­le­gal aliens to stay amounts to amnesty.

Polls show vary­ing sup­port for a guest-worker pro­gram and for le­gal­iz­ing il­le­gal aliens, but the one area al­most all vot­ers agree on in polls is the need to do more to se­cure the borders.

The House last year passed an en­force­ment bill that calls for 700 miles of new border fence, cracks down on em­ploy­ers who hire il­le­gal aliens and makes il­le­gal pres­ence a felony. The Se­nate this year passed a bill that in­cludes half that amount of fenc­ing, in­cludes new re­quire­ments for em­ploy­ers and cre­ates both a new for­eign-worker pro­gram and a path to cit­i­zen­ship for nearly 10 mil­lion il­le­gal aliens.

Mr. Bush has gen­er­ally backed the Se­nate approach, which he called “a good im­mi­gra­tion bill,” and the White House on Aug. 23 said Mr. Bush is mak­ing progress this sum­mer to­ward win­ning a com­pre­hen­sive bill.

“I’m sure mem­bers are hear­ing from their con­stituents that they want to have an im­mi­gra­tion bill,” Bush spokes­woman Dana Perino said. “We con­sis­tently see that peo­ple un­der­stand that if we’re go­ing to solve any of our im­mi­gra­tion prob­lems in­di­vid­u­ally, that they need to be solved to­gether in one bill, com­pre­hen­sively.”

Mr. Bush has also tried to boost the ef­fort of Rep. Mike Pence, In­di­ana Repub­li­can, who has his own plan that would re­quire il­le­gal aliens to briefly leave the coun­try and then re-en­ter. It would also give them a path to cit­i­zen­ship, but would make the aliens wait far longer than the Se­nate plan.

Still, Mr. King and other top House Repub­li­cans such as Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man F. James Sensen­bren­ner Jr. have panned the plan as un­work­able, and Mr. King said it has not gained ma­jor­ity sup­port among House Repub­li­cans.

At this point, says one of Mr. Bush’s top House al­lies on the is­sue, the pres­i­dent has done what he can and the is­sue is no longer in his hands.

“I haven’t al­ways agreed with the way they’ve pushed things, but boy, on im­mi­gra­tion, you have to credit them — they’ve been com­pletely con­sis­tent,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Ari­zona Repub­li­can. “I just think it’s re­ally out of his hands now. He’s made his po­si­tion clear, he’s gone around the coun­try and spo­ken about it, it’s up to the House now.”

When Congress re­turns from its sum­mer re­cess all sides ex­pect the lead­ers to sit down and take stock of where the de­bate stands. And all sides still say they would like to get a deal done. But those who want a broad bill say the de­ci­sion rests with House lead­ers.

Mr. Flake said his party’s lead­ers in the House will have to de­cide “whether they’re bet­ter off em­brac­ing com­pre­hen­sive re­form or just beat­ing up on the border. Un­for­tu­nately, it looks like the lat­ter.”

One group that’s had ex­tended dis­cus­sions with the White House is Repub­li­can House mem­bers from Texas.

Rep. John Carter, Texas Repub­li­can, said the group has had sev­eral meet­ings with Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and Mr. Rove has shown them num­bers that sug­gest that border cross­ings have di­min­ished and that solid progress on border se­cu­rity is hap­pen­ing.

Mr. Carter said, though, that just proves House Repub­li­cans were right in say­ing en­force­ment can make a dif­fer­ence, and he said the sen­ti­ment among his col­leagues — “and I talked to quite a few of them” — is still for fo­cus­ing on border se­cu­rity.

“Most are will­ing to say there’s more to this is­sue than this, but round one is at the border,” he said.

Mr. Hastert said he ac­cepts the need for a guest-worker pro­gram and is will­ing to look at a bill that in­cludes some way of mea­sur­ing whether the border has been se­cured.

Mr. Carter said he could ac­cept a frame­work that fo­cuses on en­force­ment with “a pledge” to re­visit the other ques­tions.

But Mr. King said he would op­pose writ­ing into this year’s bill any “trig­ger” that would au­to­mat­i­cally en­act a guest-worker pro­gram or path to cit­i­zen­ship.

“I want a con­gres­sional vote to be the trig­ger,” he said. “I want us to look at it our­selves, a year from now, 18 months from now, and let Congress de­cide whether the num­bers have been met.”

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