Monday, April 10, 2006

US Republican leader rejects guest worker plan

US Republican leader rejects guest worker plan
By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US House of Representatives Majority Leader John Boehner on Sunday rejected efforts to establish a guest worker program for millions of illegal immigrants, despite calls from President George W. Bush to do so.

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he supported a bill already passed by the House that focuses on tightening the nation's borders but does not include a temporary worker program.

"You can't begin to talk about a guest worker bill until you secure the borders," he said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Otherwise, he said, "We're going to have an endless parade of illegal immigrants here in our country."

Boehner's position pits him directly against Bush, who on Saturday blamed Senate Democrats for blocking a bipartisan Senate plan that created a guest worker plan and provided a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

Attempts to pass the bipartisan bill foundered on Friday as senators bickered over the number of possible amendments, with Democrats citing worries that Republicans were trying to water down the legislation.

The House bill, passed last December, is much tougher and defines the roughly 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States as felons.

Boehner stopped short of saying congressional efforts to reform immigration had failed, calling on the Senate to pass a bill when lawmakers return from recess in two weeks.


If senators pass a bill, lawmakers from both sides of Congress would have to work out their differences for a final bill. Boehner said that was possible.

Still, he said, allowing illegal immigrants to stay and work "sounds too much like amnesty for most Americans."

The issue has divided conservatives, some of whom are anxious to court the Hispanic vote and support Bush. Others worry that allowing in undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico, could harm their election efforts.

"Everybody agrees there's an enormous problem, everybody agrees with the border security lines and there's general agreement that we have to craft a compromise," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, told "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace.

But California Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, speaking on CBS's Face the Nation, said that any bill involving an amnesty would not pass the House.

Illinois Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez, chairman of the Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force, said any bill must deal with the illegal immigrants already here because the US economy can't afford to send them home.

Too many do tough agricultural and other essential work, he told NBC's Meet the Press.

"The only sane, sensible, compassionate thing to do is to integrate them fully into the fabric of our society," Gutierrez said.

Rep. Henry Bonilla, a Texas Republican, said most conservatives would eventually accept integration.

"A lot of us want to support a guest-worker plan down the road, but first and foremost, we have to secure the border," he told NBC.