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Bush keeps heat on immigration - While not giving - Houston Chronicle

(TX) - April 26, 2006 - page 3

BUREAU | Page 3

WASHINGT ON - President Bush told key Republican and Democratic senators T uesday that he
supports an immigration reform plan similar to a pending Senate bill, but he stopped short of
giving it his official endorsement.

During a White House meeting with Senate leaders and sponsors of a bill that would offer "earned"
citizenship to most illegal immigrants, Bush declined calls for him to back the Senate bill out of
concern that doing so would anger conservatives who oppose it, senators said.

"T here's no doubt that when he talks about a comprehensive bill, when he talks about guest
workers, he talks about, not automatic citizenship, but the path to citizenship, that he's not talking
about the House bill. He's talking about the ingredients - again, I'm not saying he's endorsing the
Senate bill - but he's talking about the ingredients of the Senate bill," said Senate Judiciary
Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

"T his was really, I thought, a good, good meeting," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of
Nevada. "He is for comprehensive reform. He said he is, and I believe him."

For his part, Bush simply said, "I assure the members that I look forward to working with them as
they try to get a bill out of the Senate by Memorial Day and into (House-Senate) conference."

Political calculation

T he White House has calculated that Bush should keep his powder dry until the Senate's final
negotiations with the House.

T he House last December spurned Bush's plan for temporary worker visas and passed a bill
dealing only with border enforcement.

T he pending Senate bill combines stronger border enforcement with a legalization process for
current illegal immigrants and future immigrant workers.

In a speech Monday, Bush described as "interesting" the provision that would place 10 million illegal
immigrants who have been here longer than five years on an 11-year track to citizenship. T hey
would have to work, pay fines, pass background checks, learn English and meet other

Bush rejected "automatic" citizenship, but agreed with allowing people to get in line for citizenship
after meeting requirements similar to those in the Senate measure.
Before the White House meeting, the lawmakers were primed to demand that Bush stand firmly
behind the Senate's compromise, which stalled amid a partisan dispute over whether to allow votes
on competing amendments.

"It is not what you say, it is what you do," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of 17 senators
invited to the meeting.

Meanwhile, opponents of the Senate's bipartisan bill, including Sen. John Cornyn, R-T exas, and
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, have welcomed Bush's failure to endorse the Senate
plan as a sign that the broader debate over how to deal with illegal immigrants was not over.

T he bipartisan Senate plan to create a path to citizenship is amnesty and is "a very big mistake,"
Boehner told reporters.

T he Senate bill also has been widely criticized by conservatives who worry that immigrant workers
depress wages.

During a Senate panel hearing on the economic impact of immigration, economists differed on the
benefits of a temporary worker program.

"T he best guest worker plan is no guest worker plan," said Barry R. Chiswick of the University of
Chicago. Because illegal immigrants tend to stay, he said, "there's no such thing as a temporary

But Harvard Professor Richard B. Freeman argued that the "worst form of a guest worker
program may be an illegal guest worker program, which we are running today."
Copyrig ht 2006 Houston Chronicle