Look for compromise on immigration reform
President Bush said he could support immigration reform with increased border protection to precede a guest worker program.
CONCESSIONS by President Bush hold out promise that comprehensive immigration reform can be salvaged from two radically different bills before Congress. A proposal that increased enforcement at the Mexican border be followed by a guest worker program or path to citizenship would be a reasonable compromise.
Bush embraced a bill approved by the Senate last month that includes both increased border enforcement and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal aliens in the United States. A House- approved bill provides for only border enforcement and would turn all illegal aliens into felons.
The stark difference between the two measures appeared to doom immigration reform in this session of Congress. Senate and House committees held rival hearings away from Washington last week, signaling a major campaign issue for the upcoming election.
Bush sought to create common ground. He reportedly told Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., that he was intrigued by Pence's proposal that would allow the guest worker program to begin only after borders are made secure, estimated to take two years.
Pence's proposal then would require illegal immigrants to leave the country briefly, be allowed to return with proper documentation to take part in a guest worker system and, after six years, be allowed to apply for citizenship. The Senate bill would require the returnees to pay fines and learn to speak English.
The president previously had said he favored border security, guest worker and citizenship programs to occur simultaneously. Support of the enforcement-first approach would put Bush more in tune with the House, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said the Senate could "move toward a middle ground" such as that proposed by Pence.
Following the hearings, Bush said he supports a "rational plan" that would not lead to mass deportations.
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