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GOP bill challenges Bush on immigration

Times Staff Writer

In a sharp rebuke to President Bush, House Republicans unveiled legislation Tuesday that would bar illegal immigrants from gaining legal status in the U.S., require tamper-proof birth certificates for Americans and make English the nation’s official language.

The measure’s core principles include gaining control of the border and enforcing existing immigration laws. It does not provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, as the Bush plan does.

The House bill stands virtually 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 fellow Republicans in the immigration debate.

The bill surfaced one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), working with the White House, resurrected efforts to pass the broader legislation Bush wants.

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

“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 (R-Texas) and Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), said it was meant to challenge the immigration bill the Senate planned to return to this week.

That measure, King said, goes “against the wishes of the American people.”

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In another sign of GOP restiveness over immigration, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) introduced a resolution Tuesday calling on Bush to enforce existing immigration laws in order to halt “the lawlessness at our borders.”

Sessions has been a vocal critic of the Bush approach to revamping immigration laws. The president, however, travels to Alabama this week to headline a fundraiser for the senator.

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

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

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Stanzel also noted that the Senate bill included border security goals 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 one way or the other before Congress breaks for its July 4 recess. But even if the measure passes the chamber, it faces an uncertain fate in the House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has told 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 Tuesday is the equivalent of a warning flag that conservatives intend to fight for those Republican votes.

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“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 added that the number of cosponsors the bill attracted could act as “an indication of how many votes there are to oppose something that resembles the Senate bill or ... includes the legalization program.”

The measure would require that 18,000 border patrol agents be deployed by Dec. 31, 2008. Currently, the force totals about 12,000.

It would also require the full implementation of US-VISIT, a program that is meant to track entries and exits at all ports of entry but that has fallen short of that goal.

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U.S. citizens would be affected by many of the changes proposed for work site enforcement, including mandatory checks of all employees’ eligibility and a nationwide electronic system for tracking birth and death records.

Smith, one of the bill’s authors, said it would allow for greater information-sharing among the Department of Homeland Security, the Social Security Administration and the Department of the Treasury to identify illegal immigrants.

“One of the problems we have is that databases don’t mix,” he said.

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nicole.gaouette@latimes.com


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