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Inside Politics

A looming battle over immigration policy?

By Judy Woodruff
CNN Washington Bureau
Members of the House of Representatives voted Tuesday on the intelligence bill. A Senate vote on the bill is expected Wednesday.
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The intelligence bill paves the way for sweeping changes.

CNN's Ed Henry on the intelligence bill agreement.
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David Dreier
Dennis Hastert
Duncan Hunter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress may have put off immigration issues for now, in the hopes of passing the intelligence reform bill, but a battle over immigration policy may be looming right around the corner.

The House of Representatives met Tuesday to pass the intelligence reorganization bill, thanks to a compromise that satisfied Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, a Republican and one of the main blockers of the bill.

But the passage of this bill leaves important questions about immigration still unanswered.

Despite pressure from President Bush, the bill's other main opponent, Wisconsin Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner voted against the measure. While the bill does contain some provisions to tighten the borders, such as increasing the number of border patrol and immigration enforcement agents, Sensenbrenner wanted to add still tougher language -- prohibiting illegal immigrants from obtaining drivers' licenses.

In a statement issued Monday night, Sensenbrenner asked, "Border security and immigration reform are vital components of our homeland security efforts, so why are they not included in this legislation? The time to address these issues is now, not next month, not next year. Hollow promises of future consideration are just that -- hollow promises."

Sensenbrenner is not alone among conservatives in his concern about immigration. At a GOP House conference meeting Tuesday morning, about a dozen lawmakers spoke out on the issue, and Sensenbrenner received applause when he explained his position, CNN Capitol Hill correspondent Ed Henry reported.

When I interviewed Rep.Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado, on Monday, he was opposed to President Bush's desire to pass the intelligence reform bill without tougher immigration restrictions.

"The president is wrong about this, as he's been wrong for a long time about the need to do something about our borders," Tancredo said. "He considers them two separate topics. And this is incredible that anybody who stands in front of the American public as often as he has, and says, 'I'm doing everything possible to protect you,' does not consider the borders and border security as important in that task."

Yet, it does appear that border control will come before Congress. CNN Congressional producer Ted Barrett reported on Tuesday that Rep. David Dreier, R-California, a member of the 9-11 conference committee, said House Republican leaders and President Bush have committed to adding key immigration provisions that didn't make it into the intelligence reform bill to the first "must-pass" bill next year.

Those provisions include completion of a fence on the Mexico/California border.

In addition to border control, larger-scale immigration reform may also be on the president's agenda. Last January, Bush proposed allowing undocumented workers to legally hold jobs in the United States for the first time.

If he decides to move forward on this "guest-worker" proposal, conservatives in Congress will likely greet it with opposition.

CNN political analyst and Los Angeles Times columnist Ron Brownstein said on Inside Politics Monday it is hard to see how Bush could structure immigration reform in a way that would gain support from a majority of House Republicans and still get 60 votes in the Senate.

So House Speaker Dennis Hastert could have some more collisions with the White House ahead, Brownstein warned.

Tancredo also said that more of his colleagues argued against the intelligence reform bill because of the immigration provisions than other issues. "This is a deep division that is growing deeper every minute," Tancredo said. "And the president is going to pay a price for this later with legislation."

So while President Bush may have avoided a political embarrassment this time with the passage of the intelligence reform bill, significant challenges await him.

Judy Woodruff is CNN's prime anchor and senior correspondent. She also anchors "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics," weekdays at 3:30 pm ET.

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