- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

House Republicans, returning from two weeks in their home districts, say their constituents want Congress to focus first on border security and enforcing the laws and are shying away from the Senate approach or anything that could be perceived as amnesty for illegal aliens.

“Tempers are running hot, and amnesty is not an option,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican. “People are probably a lot closer to the House bill than they are to considering the Senate bill.”

Mr. Rogers said his office received a higher-than-normal volume of calls and e-mails about the issue in the past few weeks.

Rep. K. Michael Conaway, Texas Republican, said he too, heard “push back” from many constituents regarding “anything that smacks of amnesty.”

The main legislation being discussed in the Senate would boost border security, but also would create a path to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens currently in the United States. The House approved a bill last year that only boosted border security.

“The message I hear … is that we need to secure our borders and we need to enforce our immigration laws,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican. He said allowing illegal workers to remain and eventually become citizens is “clearly perceived as amnesty” in his district. “People are opposed,” he said.

In the past few weeks, millions took to the streets in cities across the country to demand legalization for illegal aliens and to protest the House bill. Many participants were illegal aliens.

Some House Republicans, however, said those rallies had the opposite effect in their districts.

At a breakfast event in Travis County over the recess, Mr. Smith asked the crowd of about 60 citizens, most of whom were retired, whether recent immigration demonstrations made them more or less inclined to favor legalizing the estimated 10 million to 12 million people who are in the United States illegally. No one raised a hand for more inclined, but about 50 hands shot up for less inclined, he said.

But members from more urban areas had a very different take.

Democrat Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois and Joseph Crowley of New York both held town-hall meetings in recent weeks and said their constituents lean toward a comprehensive immigration bill, similar to the direction the Senate has been heading. Mr. Gutierrez held a meeting last week in Chicago at which 500 people showed up, many from immigrant groups.

“What they’re looking for is a comprehensive approach,” a spokesman said, listing border security, a temporary guest-worker program and a path to “earned legalization” as the three key parts.

Sen. Mel Martinez helped craft one of the main Senate bills, which would toughen border security but also provide a path to legalization for some illegals. A spokesman said the Florida Republican traveled across his state in recent weeks and found that “the more people heard the details … the more accepting they were” of his bill, which he says is not an amnesty.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said he favors tough border security, but his state also depends on immigrants for farm labor and other jobs, meaning that support for various approaches “depends on where you’re from.”

He said that most residents of his state want “both” tough border security and a way to retain workers who are integral parts of their communities. Mr. Roberts said that one Kansas school system recently discovered 15 of its employees are illegal aliens, and that a contractor told him that the cost of a new roof would skyrocket if he were to lose his work force.

Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat from a rural, conservative area of Michigan, held five town-hall meetings in recent weeks, where the Senate immigration bill “was not well-received” by most.

“They definitely call it amnesty,” he said.

But he added that on Mackinac Island, where tourism is the big industry and immigrant workers are needed, residents tended to favor the Senate approach.

“It just depends on where your bread is buttered,” he said.

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