President Bush yesterday told House Republicans that he wants them to pass an immigration bill this fall, but members said he may not get a bill he likes.
Mr. Bush, speaking to a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, said immigration reform is part of his agenda, and his deadline gives a boost to those looking for a guest-worker program.
“It’s great,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who is sponsoring an immigration overhaul that would give those already here illegally a multistep, 11-year path to citizenship. His bill also would allow in 400,000 guest workers per year and also put them on a multistep path to citizenship.
Mr. Flake said his bill gives the House a way to meet the president’s deadline.
“Ours is a bipartisan bill, and we’re ready, and I think the [House Republican] Conference is, as well,” Mr. Flake said.
The bill, which is the preferred solution of many immigrant advocacy groups, also is advancing in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
But other Republicans said rushing to meet Mr. Bush’s schedule would jeopardize other priorities.
“If you load up the agenda with a big immigration bill, that’s going to be a problem for Social Security,” one Republican congressman said.
Kevin Madden, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, said it’s “too early to put a timetable” on when a bill could come before the House, but said Mr. DeLay hopes Republicans can agree on something that can pass “sooner rather than later.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, told reporters recently that a bill could not be done this year, but he wants to bring one up by next summer.
The president did not go into specifics at yesterday’s meeting, several Republicans said. But Mr. Bush previously has called for a guest-worker program that matches workers with employers who say they cannot fill those jobs with Americans. He also called for an increase in the level of legal immigration.
But he has not submitted a bill or clarified what happens to current illegal aliens, who would be eligible for his worker program, when their time in the program is over.
The president’s call for a worker program puts him on a collision course with Mr. DeLay, who has said the House will first pass an immigration security and enforcement bill and then later pass a worker program.
A host of House Republicans agreed.
“I believe we need to work very quickly and effectively on behalf of the American people for added border security — an immigration bill that does enforcement first,” said Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican. “The people demand it.”
He said Americans are fed up with worker plans that include promises of enforcement measures that are never met.
But Mr. Flake said such a two-step plan never will work, because any enforcement program would deprive businesses of workers and would leave them needing a way to fill those job slots. Thus, any bill that passes will have to have both enforcement and a worker program, he said.
“The notion that you can do piecemeal reform is quickly being dismissed,” he said.
Amy Fagan contributed to this report.