Thursday, July 06, 2006

Republicans continue to be in disarray

Bush pushes guest worker plan as Republicans duel
By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Wednesday vowed to keep working for immigration legislation including a guest worker program, as Republicans held dueling hearings to build support for rival bills.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter assembled employers and sympathetic politicians to testify in Philadelphia about the country's dependence on the estimated 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders convened a public hearing at a Border Patrol station in San Diego to highlight the need for stricter enforcement along the U.S. border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigrants entering the country.

Bush took a short trip from the White House to Alexandria, Virginia to weigh in on the debate, buying coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts with dollars borrowed from an aide. He told reporters the country needed a guest worker program.

"I know there needs to be a worker program that says you can come here on a temporary basis and work here legally for jobs Americans aren't doing," he said.

Bush had hoped that lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives would be sitting down by now to reconcile the vastly different bills they passed so that he could sign a new law into effect before the November mid-term elections.

Instead, House Republican leaders decided to hold a series of hearings across the country to drum up support for their bill that includes money to construct hundreds of miles of new fencing along the Mexican border and defines illegal immigrants as felons.

The competing hearings dramatized Republican divisions on what has become an emotional issue, stirring strong feelings throughout the country on both sides.

Top House leaders have vowed not to accept the Bush-backed Senate bill which they say contains an amnesty for illegal immigrants.


In Philadelphia, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among the witnesses. Our city's economy would be a shell of itself if they (immigrants) had not come," he said.

"The idea of deporting 11 or 12 million people is pure fantasy," Bloomberg said. "If we attempted it, it would perhaps the largest roundup and deportation in world history. America is better and smarter than that."

Pennsylvania State Rep. Arthur Hershey said about 75 percent of the state's farm workers are illegal immigrants.

"Without immigrant workers, we would not have a labor force. It is that simple," he said.

In San Diego, California Republican Rep. Ed Royce criticized Senate bill for failing to secure the border.

"The House bill requires more miles of fencing while the Senate bill hinders fencing our southern border by requiring ... unprecedented and problematic consultation with Mexican authorities," he said.

California Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman denounced the hearing as a Republican "dog and pony show," adding, "They've got really ugly dogs and really mangy ponies."

The practical effect of the competing hearings may be to kill any chance of passing a bill before the election and deprive Bush of success on one of his major agenda items.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill includes a guest worker program that would ultimately grant a path to citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants.

"We cannot kick people out who have been here for a while," Bush said. "And so I look forward to working with Congress on a rational plan as to how to make sure people who have been here, the 11 million or so people who have been here for a while, are treated with respect and dignity."

(additional reporting by Jon Furlong, Sarah Tippit, Donna Smith)