Friday, May 26, 2006

One of the top House negotiators on immigration said yesterday the only way a final compromise bill can pass is if the Senate drops its path to citizenship for current illegal aliens, even as Sen. John McCain announced plans to try to broker a deal.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he is willing to accept a temporary-worker program for future workers, but citizenship for illegal aliens — which he said definitely constitutes “amnesty” — is out.

“A guest-worker program I think can be on the table if it does not contain an amnesty, but only if the employer sanctions and the increased border patrols are effective,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

It’s not just Mr. Sensenbrenner. House Republicans are lining up behind him in their opposition to the Senate bill, including Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, who said it “constitutes treachery against U.S. sovereignty” and called it “dead on arrival in the House.”

“The U.S. Senate voted to sell out the American people to vested and foreign interests with passage of a bill granting not only amnesty, but preferential treatment of illegal aliens over American citizens,” Mr. Norwood said.

Meanwhile, two members of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of moderate to liberal Republicans, said they will try to broker a deal on their own.

Mr. McCain, the Arizona Republican who was a driving force behind the Senate’s bill, and Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, announced they already have begun meeting to try to reach an agreement.

The Senate on Thursday passed its broad immigration bill, which offers a chance for citizenship to millions of illegal aliens, increases legal immigration, creates a separate program for future foreign workers, builds 370 miles of fencing on the border, and approves hiring thousands of new border and interior law-enforcement personnel.

The House in December passed an immigration bill that focuses on enforcement including 698 miles of fencing, thousands of new enforcement officers, a system to check for employers to verify that both current and future employees are legally able to work, and a provision extending criminal penalties to cover all illegal aliens and raising the crime to a felony.

The Senate bill passed on the strength of Democratic votes, 62-36. Four Democrats and 32 Republicans — a majority of the Senate Republican Conference — voted against it. The House bill passed 239-182, with 17 Republicans and 164 Democrats opposing it.

From the White House standpoint, press secretary Tony Snow said the administration has done what it could to take the border-security objection off the table, and have now “gotten past that important benchmark.”

“Border enforcement starts the first full week of June. It’s already happened,” Mr. Snow said, referring to the deployment date for the first of up to 6,000 National Guard troops President Bush wants sent to the border. “What the president has proposed is far more aggressive and robust than anything that had been considered by either house.”

Mr. Snow said that means Republicans who wanted border security first now can say they “got our way,” and said that frees those Republicans to now take a look at a guest-worker plan and a path to citizenship for some illegal aliens — the components of a “comprehensive” plan.

He said the president is not going to back off his principles, but knows he will have to work within the legislative process.

Mr. Snow specifically mentioned Mr. Sensenbrenner as a sign of progress: “Somebody like Chairman Sensenbrenner, who’s got some real problems with various aspects, has said publicly that the temporary-worker program has merit.”

But Mr. Sensenbrenner has always distinguished between a program for future foreign workers, which he says is acceptable, and a path to citizenship for current illegal aliens, which he rejects.

He says the solution to current illegal aliens is better interior enforcement and sanctions against employers who hire illegals, which would dry up the supply of jobs and force aliens to return home through attrition.

Mr. Sensenbrenner said the White House already has been trying to move the House off its position, and hasn’t had much luck. He said the White House sent Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to meetings of the House Republican Conference last week and this week to argue the White House case, but met with stiff resistance.

“They jumped all over Rove, and they said the president is not where the American people are at,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

And Mr. Norwood said if the House and Senate negotiators agree on stiff border security, only then should lawmakers turn their attention to current illegal aliens. He said those aliens should be allowed to join a temporary-worker program but would have to return home at the end, and then get in line to come back legally.

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