Wednesday, July 20, 2005

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that the House will produce another immigration and border security bill this Congress and will have to pass that bill before turning to a guest-worker program.

The Texas Republican also said he will act as traffic cop on the issue, coordinating competing bills that have been introduced in the House and working with the White House and the Senate to plan strategy.

“This office is working with the Senate and the administration, trying to fashion the policy now,” Mr. DeLay said during his weekly briefing with reporters.

He said the House has received the message that immigration is “an incredibly important issue to the American people.”

Congress this year passed the Real ID Act, which sets federal standards for driver’s licenses, allows completion of a section of border fence near San Diego and tightens restrictions on asylum seekers.

But Mr. DeLay said more security measures are needed and that the government has to prove it can enforce immigration laws before voters will be willing to accept a guest-worker program. He said the House will act on the issues in that order.

“We’ll probably have a law-enforcement-type bill, working with the Senate and the administration,” he said. “Once we convince the American people we can secure the borders and enforce the law, we can discuss what is also important in this mix — and that is how to accommodate people from other parts of the [world] that want to come here, work temporarily and go back home. Some people call that a guest-worker program.”

His comments came a day after fellow Texan Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, and Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, introduced a bill that combines enforcement measures with a temporary worker program.

Although they agree that the government must prove it can enforce immigration laws, the senators said that move must go hand in hand with a worker program.

“Ours is not a step one, step three kind of thing,” Mr. Kyl said. “We begin implementing the enforcement at the border, the interior and the work site immediately. Also immediately, we begin a temporary worker program.”

The senators’ bill allows foreigners to work two years before returning home for a third year, when they can apply again. It gives current illegal aliens five years to leave the United States, but they could apply for the work program from their home countries.

Two other senators — John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat — have a bill that would allow those here illegally to join a worker program and eventually be on a path to U.S. citizenship. It also would open up an avenue for 400,000 new workers a year to come from overseas and be put on a path to citizenship.

Mr. DeLay said he supports an eventual guest-worker plan and said a consensus is developing in Congress on the need for one.

“Even Tom Tancredo has said we need a guest-worker program,” Mr. DeLay said of the Colorado Republican who is a leader in the immigration control movement.

But Mr. DeLay has said such a program should apply only to workers who register from their home countries, not to illegal aliens already in the United States.

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