House to Take Up Stricter Immigration Measure

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 11, 2005

Driven by the rising anger of their constituents, House Republicans are pushing ahead with tough legislation to tighten control of the nation's borders and clamp down on the hiring of illegal immigrants -- without offering new avenues for such immigrants to find lawful employment.

The immigration issue has opened stark divisions in the Republican Party, pitting House leaders against the White House, business groups against congressional allies, even lawmaker against lawmaker in adjoining districts.

President Bush and his handpicked Republican Party chairman, Ken Mehlman, have implored House leaders not to take up what they call an "enforcement-only" bill, arguing that such a punitive measure could jeopardize years of Republican outreach to Latinos. New enforcement measures are bound to fail unless immigrants drawn to the economic opportunities of the United States are given some chance to work here legally, they argue.

But just such a bill is barreling toward a House vote this week, Republican leaders have promised. Advocates, including the Republican leadership, say action is needed immediately to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, and such efforts should not be held up as lawmakers wrangle over the intricacies of the president's guest-worker program.

"With all due respect, this is not a political problem to be managed," said Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.). "This is an invasion to be stopped."

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), an ardent conservative who rarely disagrees with Hayworth, all but charged the congressman from his neighboring district with grandstanding, linking him to the House's anti-immigration firebrand Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.).

"Hayworth has gone Tancredo on us," said Flake, who agrees with Bush that a guest-worker program must be part of any immigration bill.

Hayworth maintained that his position -- not Flake's -- represents the views of his border state. "I have not been Tancredoed," he said. "I've been Arizonaed."

Mehlman, who has led the GOP's efforts to reach out to minority voters, tiptoed through the altercation, trying not to confront House Republicans directly. But he repeated his concern about any bill that clamped down on border security without offering an outlet for legal employment.

"There's no question you have to start at the border [with enforcement measures], but if the House bill stops at the border, you are not addressing the nation's problem of illegal immigration and homeland security," Mehlman said.

At issue is a broad bill, drafted by the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, that would make some of the toughest changes to immigration law in decades.

Even Latino organizations term the problem of illegal immigration a crisis. About 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, often using such public services as education and health care while paying little or no taxes on under-the-table paychecks. Hayworth said illegal immigrants cost his state alone $1.6 billion a year, or $700 per Arizonan, for law enforcement, incarceration, health care, education and other public services.

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