- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Bush administration floated elements of an immigration plan yesterday that would make it harder for millions of illegal aliens to gain citizenship than under legislation passed by the Senate last year, officials in both parties said.

The officials said the administration also suggested barring future guest workers who enter the country legally from bringing family members with them — a proposal unlikely to survive intact.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss elements of a plan that was not made public.

President Bush and Democratic leaders of Congress have pledged to pass an immigration bill this year, and the administration’s point men, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, sat down in the Capitol with key senators of both parties for an initial meeting.

Efforts to pass legislation last year collapsed when House Republicans objected to a Senate-passed bill that created a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens already in the United States. Mr. Bush spoke favorably of the measure, even making a prime-time televised speech at one point backing a plan to allow millions of aliens an eventual chance at citizenship.

Conservative critics attacked the proposal as amnesty, and the bill died last fall when the Republican-controlled Congress adjourned without taking final action.

Administration officials have been meeting privately in recent weeks with key Republicans, including some who opposed the 2006 legislation, in hopes of forging a general agreement within the party.

As described by several officials, the proposal would allow current illegal aliens to stay in the United States under a new Z visa, or work visa. They could apply for “green cards,” taking their place in line alongside people who are in the country legally and want citizenship, and would be required to undergo periodic background checks while waiting.

Immigrants possessing green cards have lawful permanent residence.

The length of their wait would depend on the number of green cards available — a feature that officials in both parties said would mean millions of illegal aliens would have to wait far longer than under the Senate bill of last year.

“It takes longer, and they’ve got to go through the same channels as everybody else,” said one Republican who had been briefed on the administration’s proposal.

Under last year’s bill, aliens in the U.S. longer than five years could apply for citizenship without leaving the country. Those in the U.S. for more than two years but fewer than five would be required to go to a border point of entry, but they could return quickly as legal temporary workers while their citizenship application was pending.

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