Thursday, February 22, 2007

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy will hold a hearing next week that he hopes will get the Bush administration to confirm publicly that it wants “comprehensive immigration reform” this year.

“Chairman Leahy is looking for the Bush administration to walk the walk on comprehensive immigration reform,” Tracy Schmaler, spokeswoman for the Vermont Democrat, said yesterday. “President Bush has publicly indicated his support for comprehensive reforms that would provide a realistic solution to bringing millions out of shadows, improve internal and border security and meet the pressing needs of employers for willing workers.”

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will testify at the Wednesday hearing.

The White House yesterday said Mr. Bush remains committed to comprehensive reform, which many Republicans fear will contain some sort of amnesty for illegal aliens and usher millions of new foreign workers into the country.

“In his State of the Union address, the president called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will secure our borders, enhance interior and work-site enforcement, create a temporary-worker program and resolve — without amnesty or animosity — the status of illegal immigrants already here,” Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

“The president would like Congress to address immigration reform as soon as possible, as the issue is not getting any less complicated with the passage of time,” he said.

Last year, Mr. Bush supported legislation that the Senate approved but was rejected by the Republican-led House. That bill offered a direct path to citizenship for most of the 12 million aliens in the country.

With Democrats now controlling both chambers and Mr. Bush sharing their views on immigration, conservatives worry about what will come of legislation this year. But Democrats have been adamant that Mr. Bush take an active role in the immigration debate so that he will share equally any criticism over the legislation.

“As the Senate begins the process of considering bipartisan legislation, Chairman Leahy believes it is important for the committee to hear from administration officials, in clear and unequivocal terms, their commitment to passing comprehensive immigration reform this year,” Miss Schmaler said.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, plans to introduce a major bill sometime after next week, his office said yesterday.

Mr. Kennedy’s staff has kept the administration informed on the developments of drafting the bill, according to Mr. Kennedy’s office. And, after a Jan. 8 meeting at the White House on another matter, Mr. Bush pulled Mr. Kennedy aside to reiterate his support for comprehensive immigration reform this year.

Several Republicans on Capitol Hill who supported last year’s comprehensive reform, however, now complain that they have been left out of negotiations. As a consequence, they and others worry that the bill is being pushed further to the left than last year’s final bill.

Among those who complain of being left out of negotiations is Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican who supported last year’s legislation and is running for his party’s presidential nomination.

But Senate aides said yesterday that Mr. Brownback has skipped or canceled meetings at which he was invited to discuss the bill with Mr. Kennedy and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and co-author of the bill.

“He’s chosen not to be involved and canceled meeting after meeting,” said one Senate staffer with knowledge of negotiations. “He’s chosen to distance himself from a bill that he was an original co-sponsor of because of presidential politics.”

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