Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bush willing to go with enforcement-first approach.

Immigration: Clear sign that the House has won the debate on the type of immigration bill that will eventually pass.

WASHINGTON, July 4 — On the eve of nationwide hearings that could determine the fate of his immigration bill, President Bush is signaling a new willingness to negotiate with House Republicans in an effort to revise the stalled legislation before Election Day. Republicans both inside and outside the White House say Mr. Bush, who has long insisted on comprehensive reform, is now open to a so-called enforcement-first approach that would put new border security programs in place before creating a guest worker program or path to citizenship for people living in the United States illegally. "He thinks that this notion that you can have triggers is something we should take a close look at, and we are," said Candi Wolff, the White House director of legislative affairs, referring to the idea that guest worker and citizenship programs would be triggered when specific border security goals had been met, a process that could take two years. The shift is significant because Mr. Bush has repeatedly said he favors legislation like the Senate's immigration bill, which establishes border security, guest worker and citizenship programs all at once. The enforcement-first approach puts Mr. Bush one step closer to the House, where Republicans are demanding an enforcement-only measure.
The major sticking point is the path to citizenship which is a non-starter may be scrapped.
One major question is whether Mr. Bush would give up on a path to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million to 12 million people living here illegally. He has said repeatedly that it is impractical to deport those who have lived in the United States for a long time and built lives here; the Senate bill permits some longtime illegal residents to become eligible for citizenship if they learned English and paid taxes and a fine. Many House Republicans deride such a proposal as amnesty. Mr. Pence would require illegal immigrants — even those in the United States for decades — to leave the country briefly before returning, with proper documentation, to participate in a guest worker system. Private employment agencies would set up shop overseas to process applications; after six years in a guest worker program, an immigrant could apply for citizenship. "I believe it's amnesty if you can get right with the law by paying a fine but never have to go home," Mr. Pence said. Whether Mr. Bush would accept that is not clear. Aides to Mr. Bush, including Karl Rove, the White House chief political strategist, and Tony Snow, the press secretary, say he remains adamant that any bill must address the status of the immigrants who are here illegally. But one Republican close to the White House, granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, predicted that Mr. Bush would ultimately abandon the idea of a path to citizenship. Giving up, though, would doom the legislation in the Senate. Mr. Pence met last week with leading Republican senators, including Mr. Specter, John McCain of Arizona and Mel Martinez of Florida. In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Specter said that proponents of the Senate bill "are determined to see comprehensive" legislation, and that "comprehensive means all parts, including the 11 million." But he also said that he was very interested in Mr. Pence's approach, and that the tenor of the meeting was that the Senate could "move toward a middle ground" with the House.
The Senate now willing to "move toward a middle ground" is another sign the House gamble not to roll over is winning out. There won't be a mass deportations, but having illegals move along the same process plus extra that legal immigrants have to go with to get citizenship would be a better choice. That would mean making the immigration process more streamlined and a bigger government program. Not the best of solutions, but at this point the illegal problem is so big, that has to happen.

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