- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hopes for a quick deal on an immigration bill were dealt a blow yesterday after House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said he wanted to take a “long look” at a Senate bill offering potential citizenship to millions of illegal aliens.

Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, said hearings on the Senate bill should be held before appointing anyone to a House-Senate committee to negotiate the differences between the two chambers’ bills. Later, he said he was unsure what the House’s next move would be.

“We’re going to take a long look at it,” Mr. Hastert said last night.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner agreed. “I think we should know clearly what’s in the Senate bill,” the Ohio Republican said, adding that there are many ways to understand its contents.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, also scheduled a hearing for Monday to review provisions in the bill requiring employers to verify that their workers are legal.

Mr. Cornyn said he opposes a provision allowing workers to use up to 20 documents to verify they are legal workers. Also, the Department of Homeland Security has raised concerns about how quickly it must have in place an electronic system that employers will use to verify their workers’ legal status, Cornyn spokesman Don Stewart said.

“This will give us a chance to look at it in more detail,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Sending a bill that has already passed the Senate to hearings would be a highly unusual move and make completing a final bill before Congress goes on its summer recess in August far less likely. Disagreement on procedural issues has kept negotiations from starting, but there were hopes that could be resolved this week.

“It’s an obvious retreat from where we are,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill nearly three weeks ago. The bill offers a path to citizenship to most of the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the country, plus future guest workers.

In December, the House passed a bill focused on enforcement. It doesn’t offer eventual citizenship to illegal aliens or create a guest-worker program. There are many other significant differences in the bills.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said holding hearings on the Senate bill makes “great sense.”

The recent special-election victory of Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, California Republican, who made tough anti-immigration measures a centerpiece of his campaign, “changed a lot of people’s thinking on the issue,” Mr. Smith said. “It shows how politically advantageous it is to talk about the issue and what you would do and what the federal government should do.”

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