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GOP resists Bush's immigration pitch

President's approach wins Senate test vote despite defections
"Amnesty would mean that more people would try to sneak into our country," President Bush said.


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The first test vote in the Senate after President Bush's national address on immigration -- coupled with resistance in the House -- illustrated the challenges he faces in uniting his own party on the politically thorny issue.

By a vote of 55-40 on Tuesday, the Senate defeated an amendment from Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, that would have delayed any move to provide a legalization mechanism for illegal immigrants until after tougher border security measures were in place.

However, 33 of the Senate's 55 Republicans -- including almost all of the GOP leadership -- voted for the amendment, despite Bush's plea Monday night to deal with security, legalization and a guest-worker program together in a comprehensive bill. (Watch how viewers rated Bush's speech -- 2:29)

That led Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to complain that "the president needs to talk to his own leaders here if he wants comprehensive immigration reform."

"We've got a lot of tough votes coming up," the Nevada Democrat said. "He's got to do more than say, 'I want comprehensive reform.' "

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who voted for the amendment, said Tuesday he believes that by the end of May, the Senate will pass an immigration bill along the lines laid out by Bush in his nationally televised speech.

"I think the president's leadership does help," the Tennessee Republican said.

During an appearance Monday with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Bush acknowledged that immigration reform is going to be "a hard issue for many people."

"There needs to be a comprehensive bill in order for us to achieve the objective," Bush said. "And the objective is, on the one hand, protect our borders, and, on the other hand, never lose sight of the thing that makes America unique, which is we're a land of immigrants and that we're not going to discriminate against people."

Deploying the Guard

In his speech, Bush called for strengthening security along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a 50 percent increase in the number of Border Patrol agents -- from 12,000 to 18,000 -- and the temporary deployment of National Guard troops as support until the additional agents and new surveillance technology are in place. (Watch the logistics involved in getting the Guard to the border -- 2:03)

The first group of National Guard troops being deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border -- up to 6,000 of them -- will arrive in June, with most serving only short stints alongside units from border states, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, the Pentagon's National Guard chief, said Tuesday.

The president also reiterated his call for a guest-worker program, which would allow foreign workers to fill jobs in the United States for a limited time, after which they would return home.

More controversially, Bush for the first time endorsed the idea of allowing some of the more than 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States to work their way toward citizenship, by paying fines and back taxes, working in a job "for a number of years" and learning English. (TIME: Inside Bush's compromise strategy in the border warexternal link)

Critics of such a legalization process, including many conservatives in Bush's political base, dismiss it as "amnesty" -- a term the president said he rejects because legalization would not be automatic.

In December, the House took a harder line on immigration reform, passing a bill that dealt only with border security issues and omitted a guest-worker program and a legalization process for illegal immigrants.

The Senate version, which is now being debated, is expected to include both -- forcing the two chambers to try to work out their differences in a conference committee.

The House bill helped spark nationwide protests in recent months by supporters of illegal immigrants.

Reid called on Bush to "say something negative about this monstrous House bill that we're going to have to go to conference with," saying the president had "glossed over" it in his speech.

Resistance in the House

Bush's embrace of the Senate approach has not been well received by some House Republicans.

"It offers a perverse incentive -- the longer and more flagrantly you have broken immigration laws, the easier it will be to get on the so-called path to citizenship," Rep. J.D. Hayworth, an Arizona Republican, told CNN. "I don't believe the American people will appreciate that.

Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, issued a statement saying that "thinly veiled attempts to promote amnesty cannot be tolerated."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Latino border-state Democrat, said Tuesday that Bush's legalization proposal will help bring illegal immigrants "out of the shadows."

"They're all in an underground economy. There's fear, and America's not like that," Richardson told CNN.

Border governors split

Most of the troops deployed will spend less than a month patrolling the border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California under the supervision of Guard units from those states, Blum said.

The troops will be federalized, with the U.S. government footing the bill, but they will be under the command of the border state in which they are working, Blum said.

With short rotations, the total number of troops serving over the course of a year could top 150,000 -- or about one-third of the Guard's total strength. Units will be drawn from across the country, and border duty will replace the troops' annual 15-day training sessions that focus on their military specialty.

The plan has split border-state governors: Richardson and California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have raised questions about Bush's proposal, while Arizona Democrat Janet Napolitano and Texas Republican Rick Perry have said they support it.

Richardson told CNN that more Border Patrol agents, rather than National Guard troops, are needed to help block illegal immigration.

"New Mexico was promised 265 new border agents from the last appropriations bill," he said. "Only a handful have arrived." Meanwhile, Guard units are often used to help battle wildfires in the state's extensive wilderness, "and we're going to have plenty" of fires.

Richardson, who declared border control an emergency last year, said the deployment appears to have been developed "on the fly" as Bush faces political pressure from his fellow Republicans in Congress.

But Perry, who succeeded Bush as Texas governor, said leaders "need to be focused on how we can positively find the answers to these issues."

Schwarzenegger said Monday he is concerned about the strain placed on his state's Guard units, several of which are already fighting in Iraq. But Perry said Guard troops "are quite capable of multitasking."

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