Wednesday, March 29, 2006

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner refused yesterday to rule out compromising with the Senate to expand the House border security bill to include a guest-worker program or provisions that opponents call “amnesty.”

“Let’s wait and see what the Senate can produce,” he told reporters yesterday when asked whether House Republicans would reject the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proposal to allow the estimated 12 million illegal aliens now in the U.S. to seek citizenship after paying a fine.

Since Monday’s Judiciary vote, the Senate appears headed toward approving immigration legislation that strengthens border security some while creating a new guest-worker program and providing a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal aliens already in the country. Republican opponents of the proposal call it “amnesty” since it doesn’t deport current illegals for breaking immigration laws.

“The American people are counting on us to secure our borders and restore the rule of law to our immigration system,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and Judiciary Committee member, said Monday night after voting against the proposal.

He said the panel had “let the American people down by passing out a blanket amnesty bill. We’ve been down this path several times before, and it proved a failure.”

Conservatives were especially appalled to see so many Republicans — Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas — join panel Democrats to approve the proposal.

“It appears that the members of the committee who voted for this misguided legislation are more in tune with the thousands of protesters waving Mexican flags in the streets of Los Angeles than they are with the overwhelming majority of Americans who are demanding that America’s borders and national security be protected,” said Bill Lauderback, executive vice president of the American Conservative Union. “The first priority of any immigration reform bill must be to secure our borders. By contrast, this bill undermines respect for the rule of law and encourages more illegals to storm our borders.”

The only solace for the conservatives has been the House, where many Republicans adamantly oppose any process that permits current illegals to apply for citizenship without first leaving the country. Also, they say Congress must prove to voters that they can enforce existing immigration laws and strengthen the borders before creating any guest-worker program that draws new immigrants.

Mr. Boehner and other House leaders said yesterday they still prefer their border-security-only bill.

“Border security is a huge, huge issue everywhere,” said Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. “House members are on the right side of the issue.”

Mr. Blunt declined to give an opinion on the Senate proposal or even whether he considered it amnesty.

“I don’t know what the Senate will finally do at the end of the process,” he said.

But, like Mr. Boehner, Mr. Blunt indicated he is open to compromise.

“The critical concern here is clearly securing the border,” he said. “What else has to happen with that for the legislative process to work — you know, we’ll let the process work.”

Mr. Blunt and House Republican Conference Chair Deborah Pryce of Ohio said yesterday they will be sharing recent polling that shows American voters overwhelmingly supporting the House position of shoring up the borders and enforcing current immigration laws.

“The poll numbers really shout loudly and clearly how the American people feel about this issue,” Mrs. Pryce said.

Though Mr. Boehner repeatedly sidestepped reporters’ questions about his — or the House leadership’s — stance on the Senate proposal, he did say that he hopes that whatever is sent to President Bush more closely reflects the House bill.

“The House has passed a responsible border security bill,” he said. “While this was a very difficult issue for this Congress, I think the American people expect us to strengthen our borders and so I’m hopeful the Senate will do the same.”

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