- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

The House is the only obstacle that stands between President Bush and a comprehensive immigration bill, and the White House yesterday predicted that the chamber’s Republicans will give in.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said House Republicans will want to pass border security badly enough to back down from the fight against what many consider amnesty for illegal aliens, knowing there is a “heavier political price for failing to act, than for acting.”

“If you are a Republican member of Congress and you’re concerned about illegal immigration, do you really want to say to your constituents: You know, I’m going to wait a couple of years before I take up the issue of people knowingly hiring illegal aliens, I want to wait a couple of years before I go ahead and try to identify who the illegal aliens are, I want to wait a couple of years before I start grappling with what to do with these 11 or 12 million people who are here illegally,” Mr. Snow said.

A president always has the most influence in the backroom House-Senate negotiations, but yesterday, Mr. Snow wouldn’t tip the administration’s hand when asked how they would approach the conference committee.

“At this point, let’s get a bill through the Senate, let’s figure out where the fault lines are,” he said.

But those fault lines between the House and Senate are fairly public, deep and fundamental.

The House passed a bill in December that stepped up border enforcement and interior enforcement, enabled local law enforcement in border areas to help enforce immigration laws and cracked down on employers who hired illegal aliens.

The Senate included some of those measures but put far more emphasis on future foreign workers and a pathway to citizenship for the current estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens, a move House Republicans consider an unacceptable amnesty.

“If both parties in a negotiation are running the other way, they will never meet in any middle,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

“The question for the House is some agreement to do more than just border security. The question for the Senate is: Are they willing to be less generous than the Senate bill? Without a yes on both of those two questions, there’s no point in the conference going forward.”

From the House side, Majority Leader John A. Boehner acknowledged there were “two very separate and distinct directions that we’re going,” but said he still thinks they can reach an agreement with the Senate.

Still, the Ohio Republican said, the House position is clear.

“You can’t control the problem without first strengthening the borders and beginning to enforce the laws,” said Mr. Boehner.

Mr. Bush last week called the Senate measure “a good immigration bill.” He also recently reversed his administration’s earlier position and now endorses the idea of a path to citizenship for some illegal aliens.

He said any final bill must include border security, employer sanctions, a temporary-worker program and a way to handle the current illegal alien population.

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said the House has some areas in common with the Senate, including provisions to build more fencing — 370 miles in the Senate version and 698 miles in the House version.

Mr. Kingston said House Republicans are willing to accept a temporary-worker program for future workers but, in exchange, would have to win agreement on delaying it until the borders are secure and adopting some sort of biometric identification card.

“We think probably we might be able to do something on a temporary visa basis, but where we will have a line in the sand is on the pathway to citizenship, because pathway to citizenship, by almost any angle, leads to somebody’s definition of amnesty,” he said. “We don’t want ‘Republican’ and ‘amnesty’ in the same sentence.”

He estimated that there are 180 members of the House “just adamant about no amnesty.”

Although Mr. Bush has generally favored the Senate’s approach and has recently said some illegal aliens can gain citizenship, he has been insistent that future foreign workers not have a path to citizenship. That sets up a major conflict with the Senate, where the bill that passed yesterday does grant that right to future workers.

Mr. Bush did win an unlikely ally in former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, who this week said Mr. Bush’s efforts to create a right to citizenship have been “quite admirable.”

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