Bush calls for House, Senate compromise on immigration
President Bush tells the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that immigration reform will be difficult.
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Establishes a three-tiered path-to-citizenship program, which divides the 11 million to 12 million illegal workers in the United States into three groups:
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush Thursday urged the House and Senate to work out compromise legislation on immigration reform, and said opponents of one of his key proposals are taking an approach that's "wrong and unrealistic."
In a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the president said reconciling the bills already passed by the two chambers will be difficult.
"Yet the difficulty of this task is no excuse for avoiding it," he said. "The American people expect us to meet our responsibility and deliver immigration reform that fixes the problems in the current system."
Bush restated his support for improved border security, a guest worker program, and accountability for employers who hire illegal workers.
He also discussed the contentious issue of creating a "path to citizenship" for the millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States.
"Some members of Congress argue that no one who came to this country illegally should be allowed to continue living and working in our country, and that any plan that allows them to stay equals amnesty, no matter how many conditions we impose," Bush said.
"I appreciate the members are acting on deeply felt principles. I understand that. Yet I also believe that the approach they suggest is wrong and unrealistic," he continued. "There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program that requires every illegal immigrant to leave."
Last week, the Senate approved a wide-ranging overhaul of immigration laws, voting 62-36 to bolster security at the Mexican border and to grant many illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship.
But the inclusion of that path set the stage for a battle with the House of Representatives, which passed a stricter bill in December.
The House and Senate bills next head to a conference committee for possible reconciliation.
A top House opponent to the Senate plan said Friday that senators who passed the bill were not being honest.
"What's going on now, in calling it a pathway to citizenship or earned legalization, is not honest because it is amnesty," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Sensenbrenner, like all House members, faces midterm elections in the fall.
"I don't plan on signing a conference report that might look good on a bumper sticker," Sensenbrenner said at a Washington news conference.
Several senators said after the vote that the president's participation in the political maneuvering will be key to crafting a compromise. (Watch the challenges that await the bill -- 2:09 )
"I believe we can do it," Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, told reporters. "I believe the president will put a very heavy shoulder to the wheel."
President Bush last week commended the Senate on its work in "passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform."
"I look forward to working together with both the House of Representatives and the Senate to produce a bill for me to sign into law," he said in a statement.
The prospects for that, however, remain uncertain.
Most members of the GOP majority in the Senate voted against the measure, with 23 backing it and 32 opposing. Among Democrats voting, 38 supported the bill and four did not. The chamber's Independent senator voted in favor.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican who voted for the bill, has called for swift talks with the House to mold a compromise measure.
The House bill passed in December focuses on border enforcement, and omits a guest-worker program and a legalization process for illegal immigrants.
In the closing moments of Senate floor debate last week, Specter looked ahead to the conference committee meetings and reminded fellow Republicans that midterm elections are looming.
"There is an important issue, political issue, about the ability of Republicans to govern," the Judiciary Committee chairman said. "There is an election in November, and our leadership positions as Republicans is on the line. And I think that will weigh heavily in the conference."
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