Bush still pushing for immigration worker plan
WASHINGTON, July 5 (Reuters) President George W Bush today vowed to keep working for immigration reform including a guest worker program, in the face of growing resistance from some senior Republicans who have vowed to block any concessions to illegal immigrants.
As Republican lawmakers for and against comprehensive immigration reform convened dueling public hearings in Philadelphia and San Diego, Bush took a short trip from the White House to Alexandria, Virginia to weigh in on the debate.
Bush bought coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts, handing over dollars borrowed from an aide, and told reporters the country needed a guest worker program.
''I know there needs to be a worker program that says you can come here on a temporary basis and work here legally for jobs Americans aren't doing,'' he said.
Bush had hoped that lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives would be sitting down by now to reconcile the vastly different bills they passed so that he could sign a new law into effect before the November mid-term elections.
Instead, House Republican leaders decided to hold a series of hearings across the country, the first in San Diego today, to drum up support for their bill that includes measures to secure the Mexican border and would define an estimated 11-12 million illegal immigrants as felons.
Top House leaders have vowed not to accept the Bush-backed bill passed by the Senate which they say contains an amnesty illegal immigrants.
COUNTER HEARING Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a sponsor of the competing Senate bill, convened his own hearing in Philadelphia to counteract the House leaders.
The practical effect of the competing hearings may be to kill any chance of passing a bill before the election and deprive Bush of success on one of his major agenda items.
Like the House bill, the Senate bill contains steps to plugs gaps in the border. However it also includes a guest worker program that would ultimately grant a path to citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants.
''We cannot kick people out who have been here for a while,'' Bush said. ''And so I look forward to working with Congress on a rational plan as to how to make sure people who have been here, the 11 million or so people who have been here for a while, are treated with respect and dignity.'' White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush was interested in a proposal by Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence, a House conservative leader, that would send illegal immigrants to a series of centers across the US border to fill out paperwork and await a US employer sponsor.
''What he's interested in is comprehensive reform. And anybody who comes up with proposals that are going to be able to break the gridlock, those are going to be welcomed,'' Snow said.
Bush stopped at the doughnut shop to dramatize the importance of immigrants to the economy. It is owned by two Iranian-American brothers, had a Guatemalan-American as a district manager and a Salvadoran-American as a store manager.
''These people remind me that one of the great features of our country is that people are able to come here and realize dreams,'' Bush said.
Reuters DH VP0025