Bush may find an ally on immigration

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The Next Congress

Fourth of five parts

Immigration is the one major issue on which President Bush is likely to fare better next year if Democrats win control of Congress.

The issue is unfinished business to which all sides promise to return, after House Republicans this year prevented Mr. Bush from winning both a guest-worker program and citizenship rights for most illegal aliens.

Instead, House Republican leaders forced through a bill to construct 698 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Funding for the fencing and other border security measures will be the first test of the new Congress on immigration policy.

Democrats have an outside chance of taking complete control of Capitol Hill, but a better chance of winning one chamber, and in this series, The Washington Times is examining how such a transfer of power will affect U.S. policy and politics.

Neither House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, likely to be the speaker of the House if Democrats win that chamber, nor Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the Democrats’ Senate leader, would commit this week to funding the fencing if they gain control of Congress.

“What Leader Pelosi has said in the past is that we need to do comprehensive reform, and the fence could be part of that reform,” said the California Democrat’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Crider.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Mr. Reid, said the Nevada Democrat is working toward “solutions that are tough and smart, not political legislation designed to make for good election-year sound bites.”

Republicans are questioning the Democrats’ commitment. Last week, on the day Mr. Bush signed the fencing into law, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert issued a statement asking, “Would a Democrat majority support construction of a border fence?”

But Mr. Hastert won’t commit to spending for the entire fence, instead focusing on “operational control” that could include less fencing but other measures, such as more Border Patrol agents and vehicle barriers.

“He’ll commit to funding necessary to get operational control of the border, which goes far beyond a single line of fencing,” said Lisa C. Miller, spokeswoman for the Illinois Republican.

For his part, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican likely to lead his party in the Senate with the retirement of Majority Leader Bill Frist, wants to see the funding through, his spokesman said.

“He sees border security as critical to our national and homeland security and believes the Congress should fund border security, including the border fence,” spokesman Don Stewart said.

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