Bush Returns to Work on Immigration Plan
By BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writer
Monday, April 9, 2007
(04-09) 09:44 PDT Crawford, Texas (AP)
President Bush returns to work Monday on the volatile issue of immigration, where his hope for a legislative breakthrough is complicated by cold relations with Congress.
Bush will be back in Yuma, Ariz., to inspect the construction of border fencing and to push for the creation of a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The trip serves as a bookend to the visit Bush made to the same southwest desert city last May.
It also comes as tension rises over a new immigration proposal tied to the White House.
Bush's team is privately working hard to rally votes for what Bush calls comprehensive reform — a mix of get-tough security with promises of fair treatment for undocumented residents.
The Democratic-led Congress, eager to show some accomplishment on a core issue, wants to get a law passed. So does Bush, who is seeing opportunities to advance his agenda shrink.
Yet immigration is a sticky issue, and the fault lines don't fall along party lines.
With up to 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., lawmakers haven't agreed on how to uphold the law without disrupting lives, eroding the workforce and risking political upheaval.
Bush is hopeful for a legislative compromise by August. He will make his case at a point along
the Yuma Sector Border, a 125-mile stretch overlapping Arizona and California.
The president's relations with Congress these days have been soured by the war in Iraq. He is
at odds with Democratic lawmakers over a bill to extend war funding in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On immigration, the White House has been quietly trying to build momentum.
Administration officials, led by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, have been meeting privately for weeks with Republican senators. That expanded to a meeting in late March with key senators from both parties.
Out of that session, a work-in-progress plan emerged — one described as a draft White House plan by officials in both parties and advocacy groups who got copies of the detailed blueprint.
The White House disputes that characterization. Spokesman Scott Stanzel said it was only a starting point, an emerging consensus of Republican senators and the White House.
Regardless, the floated proposal has already met opposition. Thousands of people marched through Los Angeles on Saturday, fueled in part by what they called a betrayal by Bush.
The plan would grant work visas to undocumented immigrants but require them to return home and pay hefty fines to become legal U.S. residents. They could apply for three-year work visas, dubbed "Z" visas, which would be renewable indefinitely but cost $3,500 each time.
The undocumented workers would have legal status with the visas, but to become legal permanent residents with a green card, they'd have to return to their home country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine.
That's far more restrictive than the bipartisan bill the Senate approved last year.