- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The House Immigration Reform Caucus, responding to President Bush’s call to produce a “comprehensive” immigration-reform bill by the end of the year, said rewarding illegal aliens who broke the law with a path to citizenship will encourage not discourage illegal entry.

“The administration’s proposal offends the American people’s sense of fairness,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, caucus member and ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “It treats illegal aliens better than legal immigrants who have played by the rules and come in the right way.”

On Monday, Mr. Bush urged lawmakers to move forward with his five-point immigration-reform plan, the centerpiece of which is a guest-worker program that would give the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the United States legal status and a path to citizenship.

The president described the plan as a “matter of national interest,” saying he had been working to bring Republicans and Democrats together to resolve outstanding issues so Congress can pass a comprehensive bill and he can sign it into law this year.

After running into opposition from his own party, which failed to pass the legislation when it controlled both chambers of Congress, the White House overhauled its immigration plan. A draft sent to advocacy groups and top Republican lawmakers calls for work visas to be granted to illegal aliens but would require that they leave the United States briefly and pay a fine.

According to the plan, the illegals could apply for three-year work visas, dubbed “Z” visas, which would be renewable indefinitely but cost $3,500 each time. They eventually would be able to apply for citizenship.

Caucus Chairman Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, California Republican, said although he supports the president’s goal of passing “true” immigration-reform legislation this year, opposition to it remains strong.

“Ultimately, the devil is in the details the president and Congress need to remember: What part of illegal in illegal immigration do people not understand?” said Mr. Bilbray, who was elected last year after espousing a hard line on illegal entry.

Caucus member Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, called the president’s plan wrong because it rewards people who have lived in the United States but broken the law which she described as “amnesty.”

“People in America do not want amnesty and have been very, very clear on that,” she said.

Caucus member Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, said a “bought-and-paid-for citizenship” would encourage more illegal entry and discriminate against those who lawfully come to the country.

“No matter how you dress it up, this is just another amnesty plan, and it will not have the support of the American people,” he said.

Caucus member Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, said those who support legal immigration and the rule of law must stand united against any plan for amnesty.

“Have we learned nothing from the past?” he said. “In 1986, we passed an amnesty plan that did nothing to fix our broken immigration system. In 2007, we can’t take that same path to failure. It would be foolish to craft legislation that clearly goes against the will of so many citizens.”

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