Immigration bill faces a wall of opposition

Times Staff Writer

The compromise immigration plan unveiled Thursday by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats offers the best prospect for congressional action on the explosive issue this year -- perhaps for several years to come.

But the attacks from both left and right that met the proposal suggested the latest push for change, although representing a potential breakthrough, could again end in a stalemate. At the very least, the criticism showed that the bill’s supporters would need to do a lot of arm-twisting on both sides of the aisle.

“This is far from over,” Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) said, criticizing as “amnesty, amnesty and amnesty” the provision that provides illegal immigrant workers with a path to legal standing and citizenship.


The provisions on citizenship were by no means the only ones to come under fire.

Among Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada expressed “serious concerns about some aspects of this proposal, including the structure of the temporary worker program and undue limitations on family immigration.”

Reid’s statement was referring to parts of the measure that would set out conditions for temporarily letting foreign workers enter the United States, and to changes in the provisions that permit legal immigrants to bring family members into the country.

Another Democrat, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, said the guest worker program threatened to drive down U.S. wages.

“America’s workers have enough downward pressure on their wages because of unfair trade deals and corporate outsourcing of millions of jobs every year,” he said in a statement. “The last thing they need now is to have an inflow of millions of more immigrants competing for their jobs at substandard wages.”

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) signaled that he wanted to tighten border security and “repair the woefully inadequate legal immigration process before we move to an amnesty-based immigration system.”

Among Republicans, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa objected to a provision that he said would give the Homeland Security Department “unlimited, open-ended access to all Social Security data, including confidential tax return information.”

The provision Grassley challenged is designed to create a workable employment verification system. His statement said the provision would take a “wrecking ball” to “the balance between taxpayer privacy and legitimate law enforcement.”

Still, the bipartisan Senate agreement -- and its support across the political spectrum, including the backing of liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), conservative Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and President Bush -- should improve its prospects.

“I like the chances,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “The fact that they have such a broad coalition in the Senate bodes well for the House.”

Rep. George P. Radanovich (R-Mariposa), who has pushed for a guest worker program that would benefit his agricultural-rich district, predicted the measure would pass.

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) called prospects bright. “I think there are a lot of people who want to see us do something in a comprehensive way,” he said. But he acknowledged that he and other advocates of comprehensive changes in immigration policy had their work cut out to round up GOP support for the measure.

Rep. Adam H. Putnam (R-Fla.), the third-ranking Republican in the House, said, “I think there’s a sense over here to attempt to solve the problem in a responsible way.” But he said most of his colleagues were “keeping their powder dry until they have had an opportunity to see the details” of the Senate proposal.

Even with bipartisan Senate backing and Bush’s support, some analysts said supporters would need to round up as many as 70 Republicans to get the measure through the House because of opposition from Democrats in conservative districts.

“If 70 is what they need, I think we’ve got 70 Republicans,” Flake said. “There are a lot of Republicans over here who understand, if nothing else, the benefits of getting this behind us as an issue.”

A number of House Republicans remained unbending in their opposition to anything they regarded as amounting to amnesty.

Gallegly said he wasn’t swayed by support for the bill from conservative Republicans like Kyl. “This is amnesty, pure and simple,” he said in a statement.

He continued: “If we grant this amnesty, we only encourage yet even more illegal immigration.”

Noting that the bill would require the head of household to return to the country of origin to apply for the full family’s permanent residency, Gallegly said, “Only one lawbreaker has to return to apply for permanent residency for a family of lawbreakers.”

Andrew Whalen, a spokesman for freshman Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), said: “I can tell you that if it has anything resembling amnesty, it’s going to be a no-go for the congressman.”

Ninety-seven House members -- all Republicans except Democrats Nancy E. Boyda of Kansas and Jim Marshall of Georgia -- recently sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) calling on her “not to bring amnesty legislation to the House floor.”

Marshall spokesman Douglas Moore said, “We are not in favor of any kind of amnesty for illegal immigrants.”

Reid, the Senate majority leader, said, “We need to improve the bill as it moves through the legislative process.”

Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) complained in a statement that the compromise would end up costing taxpayers “trillions of dollars in entitlement spending” for immigrants moving on to the “already straining Social Security and Medicare system.”