House GOP offers immigration bill

Measure stands little chance of passing, shows Republican divide over the issue

June 20, 2007|By Nicole Gaouette | Nicole Gaouette,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- In a sharp rebuke to President Bush, House Republicans unveiled legislation yesterday that would bar illegal immigrants from gaining legal status in the United States, require Americans to get new tamper-proof birth certificates and make English the nation's official language.

The measure's core principles include gaining control of the border and enforcing existing immigration laws, instead of rewriting policy to enable most illegal immigrants to eventually gain citizenship - the plan Bush backs.

The House bill stands almost no chance of becoming law, or even advancing, in the Democratic-controlled Congress. Still, it casts in bold relief the split between Bush and many Republicans in the immigration debate.

The bill surfaced one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, working with the White House, resurrected efforts to pass the broader legislation that Bush wants.

The authors of the House bill also are pushing for a congressional resolution detailing ways in which they believe the federal government has failed to enforce immigration laws and made it easier for illegal immigrants to stay in the United States.

"The current illegal immigration crisis is a direct result of this and previous administrations failing to enforce or adequately enforce at least eight immigration laws," the resolution said.

The bill's authors, Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas and Peter T. King of New York, said it was meant to challenge the immigration bill the Senate plans to return to this week. That measure, King said, goes "against the wishes of the American people."

In another sign of GOP restiveness over the immigration issue, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama introduced a resolution yesterday calling on Bush to enforce existing immigration laws to halt "the lawlessness at our borders."

Sessions has been a vocal critic of the Bush approach to revamping immigration laws.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel rejected the criticism that the Bush administration has been lax in border enforcement. As one example, he noted a sharp rise in funding for border control.

In 2001, enforcement funding totaled $4.6 billion; that has increased significantly, and Bush is seeking $11.8 billion in his latest budget request.

Stanzel said the Senate bill includes goals for border security that would have to be achieved before other aspects of the overhaul could proceed.

Reid wants the Senate to decide the fate of the immigration bill before Congress breaks for its July Fourth recess. But even if the measure passes the chamber, it would face an uncertain fate in the House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has told Bush administration officials that she will not take up the bill unless about 70 Republicans are brought on board to help pass it.

The bill unveiled yesterday is the equivalent of a warning flag that conservatives intend to fight for those Republican votes.

"It seems a formal way of putting proponents on notice that there will be resistance from those quarters in the House," said Roberto Suro, director of the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.

He said the number of co-sponsors the bill attracts could act as "an indication of how many votes there are to oppose something that resembles the Senate bill or includes the legalization program."

Nicole Gaouette writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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