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Inside Politics

Bush immigration plan could pass Congress, aides predict

Leadership aides say support of moderates is key

By Ted Barrett and Steve Turnham
CNN Washington Bureau

Bush outlines his immigration proposals at the White House on Wednesday.
Bush outlines his immigration proposals at the White House on Wednesday.

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Workers in the United States illegally join a temporary labor program.

Those now-illegal immigrants then can apply for permanent residence but get no preferential consideration.

Employers hiring these workers must show they cannot find U.S. laborers to fill their jobs.

These undocumented workers get guaranteed wage and employment rights.

These workers receive a temporary three-year visa, renewable once. They are expected to return to their countries of birth once their visas expire.

Congress is urged to increase current annual limit of 140,000 "Green Cards.".

The Department of Homeland Security is to administer the program.
Capitol Hill
Democratic Party
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite vocal criticism from conservative and liberal lawmakers on Capitol Hill, congressional leadership aides predicted that President Bush might be able to pass his immigration reform proposals this year if he pushes hard for support from moderate lawmakers in both parties.

"It could split our base," cautioned a House Republican leadership aide. "I don't think we have the votes on the Republican side alone (but) if Bush worked it, he'd get more than half of the Republicans."

Bush outlined his idea in broad strokes Wednesday, rather than providing specific legislation. Administration officials said many of the details would be worked out in consultation with Congress. (Full story)

While temporary workers will have the opportunity to try to stay in the United States permanently, they will be encouraged to return to their home countries with financial incentives. If the workers do decide to stay, they will have to compete with migrants outside the country for the limited number of immigration slots, the president said.

Currently, about 140,000 "green cards" are issued each year to people wanting to migrate to the United States. Bush said Wednesday that number is too low, and he called on Congress to raise it, although he did not give a specific number.

"I think it will get a lot of Democratic support, but not unanimous," said a House Democrat leadership aide who predicted more Democrats than Republicans would support the bill.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, is expected to work to pass the proposal, an aide said. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, is described as "very supportive" and even Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said he wants to study the proposal and "look for comprehensive bipartisan solutions."

But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said through a spokesman that he remains "skeptical" that Bush's plan "constitutes sound public policy."

"Those that seek the American dream must follow American laws," DeLay said. "I applaud the president for addressing this difficult and complex issue but have heartfelt reservations about allowing illegal immigrants into a U.S. guest worker program that seems to reward illegal behavior."

Republicans like Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado vowed to defeat the plan. He described the measure as an "amnesty" program that is "an indication that the administration's priority places cheap labor and political points ahead of national security."

Other conservative Republicans were also uneasy with the notion of clearing millions of illegal immigrants to work and earn government benefits. "It's such a huge hump for so many of our members to get over," said a Republican aide who works on immigration issues.

Liberal Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said the proposal is "very disappointing" and "falls far short of being the serious reform our country needs to fix our broken immigration system."

Presidential candidates also weighed in: Rep. Dick Gephardt , D-Missouri, warned Bush's proposal puts a "greater emphasis on political positioning than serious policy solutions." Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, said the president has "had an election year conversion to immigration reform, but it's too little and three years too late." (Democrats: Bush immigration plan not enough)

One potential hurdle to passage in the House is getting the bill through the House Judiciary Committee, where opposition is expected to be steep, aides said. House leaders are reluctant to move a bill to the floor without the committee's approval.

Because immigration is "such an explosive issue," in the words of one aide, many on the Hill would prefer to not have to take it up this year.

"It's a bold proposal," a GOP leadership aide said. "In an election year, our guys don't necessarily like bold."

Aides were split on whether Bush's reforms are aimed at scoring political points with the burgeoning Hispanic population.

"That voting bloc is up for grabs," a GOP aide said. "I think it will generate votes for the president and could help Republicans."

"I don't think the Hispanic community will make their decision based on one policy," countered a Democrat aide who claimed Bush has a bad track record for following through on past promises to Hispanics.

The Latino community also appears split over Bush's proposal. The president was joined in the East Room by representatives from several Latino groups, including Hector Flores, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which bills itself as the nation's oldest and largest Hispanic organization.

But Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, which claims to be the nation's largest Latino civil rights organization, issued a statement saying Bush's proposal was a "bitter disappointment" that would relegate immigrants to "second-class status." (CNN Access)

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