Bush, Democrat in political skirmish on immigration
WASHINGTON, Apr 13 (Reuters) President George W Bush and the leader of Senate Democrats squabbled today over who was to blame for stalling immigration reform, an issue that has deeply divided the United States in an election year.
The White House said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada had ''single-handedly'' blocked efforts to move immigration legislation through the Senate.
Reid slapped back that it was the President's own Republican Party which was to blame.
The finger-pointing between Republicans and Democrats illustrated the divisiveness of an issue that has gained momentum in a midterm election year in which Republicans are struggling to retain control of Congress.
Hundreds of thousands of supporters of easing immigration restrictions have rallied around the country in recent weeks.
Demonstrators voiced opposition to a bill passed in December by the Republican-led House of Representatives that would make it a crime instead of a civil offense to be in the country illegally and which calls for construction of a fence along parts of the US border with Mexico.
Bush, a former governor of Texas which borders Mexico, has pushed for immigration reform and a temporary worker program since early in his presidency, but those efforts have repeatedly stalled in Congress.
The issue has divided his own Republican Party between those who want to provide illegal immigrants a legal way to work and those who do not want to reward people who have illegally entered the country.
''This is a highly emotional issue. It's a vitally important issue,'' Bush said during a speech to a small business conference.
A bipartisan compromise in the Senate to overhaul immigration law stalled last week after failing to clear a procedural hurdle.
The bill would have created a temporary worker program as proposed by Bush and paved the way for more than 7 million illegal immigrants to become US citizens.
''Unfortunately, the compromise was blocked by the Senate Democratic minority leader,'' Bush said, accusing Reid of using a ''procedural gimmick'' to ''single-handedly'' block the bill.
Reid, in a statement, said Bush lacked credibility on the issue.
He noted that majority Republicans voted against a move to limit debate and advance the bill closer to passage.
''President Bush has as much credibility on immigration as he does on Iraq and national security. If he were actually committed to comprehensive immigration reform he would have stopped his own party from filibustering it twice last week,'' Reid said.
REUTERS PG BD0039