- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

Republicans are planning to make end runs around opposition to a border security bill with the expected Senate approval of billions of dollars in immediate spending and with the Bush administration announcing an increase in workplace enforcement.

Party leaders hope the moves will satisfy voters concerned about illegal immigration and pave the way for more comprehensive reforms, such as a guest-worker program and a path to U.S. citizenship.

Conservatives remain skeptical.

Congress returns this week from a two-week recess with immigration still the primary issue, and President Bush plans to reignite the debate today with a speech in Irvine, Calif.

“This is a top priority and the president wants to see the Congress press ahead and get something done, in a comprehensive way,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, has long argued for strong border security.

“We can secure our borders,” he said last month. “We cannot survive if we do not have borders that are secure, if we do not know who is coming in the country and why they are coming here.”

Mr. Judd is chairman of the Budget Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, and is widely known for his frugality. Despite that, he will propose more than $1 billion in emergency spending on more border patrol agents, trucks, helicopters, new stations, upgraded communications and fencing targeting at high-traffic areas.

Majority Leader Bill Frist plans to include even more money in Mr. Gregg’s proposal, aides said.

“Frist wants to make clear to conservatives that security isn’t forgotten as the Senate handles broad-based immigration reform,” a leadership aide said. “Spending money now helps Republicans with the base this fall.”

Mr. Frist then will work for passage of a proposal by Sens. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, and Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, that would offer a path to citizenship for illegal aliens who have been in the country for more than two years.

Mr. McClellan yesterday called the Hagel-Martinez plan “a good agreement.”

The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it would step up enforcement of laws sanctioning those who hire illegal aliens.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, called it a clear effort to try to assure Americans who say the federal government is not doing enough about enforcement.

“They’re trying to show that that isn’t true and simply take that argument off the table so they can get a guest-worker plan,” Mr. Tancredo said.

“I’m glad to see it, but it’s long overdue,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

He said he hopes employers now will think twice about hiring illegal aliens.

The Senate proposal would require most aliens who have been here illegally for less than two years to return to their home country to apply for citizenship. Those who have been here illegally for two years or more would be permitted to work in the country and apply for citizenship. Mr. Frist calls the plan “fair” and “workable.”

But Mr. Cornyn said the Hagel-Martinez compromise would not win widespread support among those who oppose what they see as amnesty.

• Stephen Dinan, traveling with the president in California, contributed to this story.

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