Border Control Must Improve, Boehner Says

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 10, 2006

Plans supported by President Bush, and being weighed by the U.S. Senate, to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants are wrong-headed, and the nation should instead enforce tough border controls and crack down on people living illegally in the United States, House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said yesterday.

Even if the Senate were to combine a guest-worker program with increased border security -- a hard-fought compromise on such a measure collapsed Friday -- Boehner warned that such a plan would place "the cart before the horse."

"I'm for securing the borders and enforcing the laws," Boehner said on ABC's "This Week." "Until we do that, if you try to create a guest-worker program, all you're doing is inviting more illegal immigration."

The House has already passed a tough measure that basically calls for capturing and deporting millions of illegal immigrants -- a measure that has prompted nationwide protests from immigrant rights groups, including a gathering scheduled today in Washington that organizers expect could draw as many as 180,000 people.

The proposal by House Republicans has generated intense anger in many Hispanic, Asian and African communities, and has become a potent political issue in an election year, as politicians try to balance the growing influence of Hispanic voters in local and national politics with a possible conservative backlash.

The Senate will return to the issue in a couple of weeks and again try to craft a compromise, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said on "Fox News Sunday." Specter agreed that border security was important but said it was obvious the nation needed to deal with undocumented immigrants "in a rational way."

Besides the pressing need for change, Specter said the issue also carried "a real risk of significant political fallout," which he predicted would be a practical motivator for a bipartisan solution.

The Senate plan that collapsed Friday sought to divide undocumented workers into three groups, setting those who have been in the United States for a long time on a path to citizenship. The plan called for penalties on those who entered the country illegally, but Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), a major proponent of tougher controls and sanctions, said yesterday on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the penalties were trivial.

The question of whether to absorb some of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, or to deal harshly with them, has divided the Republican Party. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have called for bringing undocumented workers, predominantly Hispanics, out of the shadows, but House Republicans have warned that such a move would condone illegal behavior -- and would be tantamount to an amnesty, a term that proponents of such measures have strenuously avoided.

Boehner and Tancredo both said yesterday that placing undocumented workers on the path to citizenship was basically an amnesty, and would send a terrible message to legal immigrants in the United States and aspiring immigrants about whether it was worth following U.S. law. Boehner said he hoped to reach a compromise with the Senate, but he suggested that any Senate proposal to legalize immigrants by offering guest-worker permits was unacceptable.

"You can't begin to talk about a guest-worker bill until you secure the borders," Boehner said. "We went for 100 years without paying attention to our borders. And over the last 10 years, we spent a lot of time, effort and money getting more security on the border. But we're nowhere close to having the kind of secure borders that Americans want."

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