Today, President Bush makes another push for GOP House leaders to capitulate and back an immigration bill based on legislation the Senate passed Friday. That's what Bush has urged -- in more diplomatic language -- in speeches on May 25, May 22, May 20, May 18 and May 15. He's trying.
Last April I ran a column predicting that the likely outcome of the nation's historic debate about immigration is no bill sent to Bush to sign. Now that the Senate has acted, it seems the divisions between the chambers are significant and for now unbridgeable, despite the effort of Bush and his top political adviser Karl Rove, recently dispatched to Capitol Hill to talk to reluctant House Republicans.
The House bill deals only with border security, calling for a fence along portions of the southern border and making illegal immigrants and those who help them felons.
The Senate bill provides a path for millions of people here illegally to legalize their status, lets students here illegally remain in school and creates a guest or temporary worker program. It's not a pure amnesty play but does give a break to people who broke the law. The Senate provides more border security by bringing in the National Guard along the Mexican border. Making English the national language is also part of the Senate bill. When Bush calls for "comprehensive'' reform, it's code for endorsing many of the provisions in the Senate bill.
The House and Senate need to agree on the exact same language before a bill is sent to Bush.
There is probably a majority in the House to support a Senate approach to immigration.
It's not that simple, however. There is something called the Hastert Doctrine that will be applied if and when Senate and House members sit down in a conference committee to negotiate a common bill to take back to their chambers for final approval.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who today becomes the longest-serving GOP House speaker in history, has a governing philosophy, and that is moving legislation to the floor only if it has the backing of the majority of the majority.
While a bill may not emerge from this process, there are some interesting other provisions buried in the House and Senate measures that are worth some attention:
*What's the impact of illegal immigration when it comes to reapportioning political districts after each census? The Senate is suspicious redistricting is not being done right because the voting age population count used in reapportionment may include non-citizens. The bill calls for a Census Bureau study of the situation.
*Creation of "Passport cards'' provided for in the Senate bill that would allow "expedited travel'' between the United States, Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
*Funding of a vast university network in Mexico to address poverty in that country, which is driving millions of Mexicans to sneak into the United States seeking a better life. The Senate bill calls for a U.S. land grant university (a state school) to establish the "Mexican Rural Poverty Mitigation Program'' in each of Mexico's 31 states.
*The House bill calls for all uniforms used by Border Patrol Agents to be made in the United States.
*Drunk driving, in the House bill, would earn automatic deportation for an illegal immigrant after the first conviction.
*The Senate also lets money do some talking. Under the plan, an employer in the United States could pay a "premium'' fee for expedited handling of employment-based immigration petitions.
*In order to bolster border forces, members of the Armed Forces would get incentive pay in the Senate plan to sign up as border patrol agents.
*If a border fence ever becomes law, the Senate calls for a report within six months of passage to determine if the people impacted on both sides of the border have been solicited for their views in order to "lessen tensions.''
*The Statue of Liberty has stood as the symbol of this nation as a land of immigrants. Portions have been closed since the 9-11 attacks. On page 114 of a 115-page amendment, there is language calling for the interior secretary to open the statue again, "including the crown and stairs'' to all people who pass security.
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