Bush Works to Break Immigration Deadlock

The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 5, 2006; 7:01 PM

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- President Bush stopped by a Dunkin' Donuts shop Wednesday to promote a program to help verify that workers are in the country legally. Behind the scenes, he explored a proposal for breaking a congressional gridlock over immigration legislation.

Flanked by the immigrant owners and employees of the suburban Washington shop, Bush said he wants a rational plan that would treat immigrants with dignity. He said he wants to enforce the borders so fewer people sneak across but also provide a way for those already in the United States for some time to become citizens.

"We're not going to be able to deport people who have been here, working hard and raising their families," Bush said. "So I want to work with Congress to come up with a rational way forward."

The immigration legislation that Bush is demanding is caught between House and Senate negotiators who so far have not been able to work out disagreements over how to handle an estimated 12 million foreigners living illegally in the United States. House Republican leaders, who are holding a series of immigration hearings across the country this week, have been more reluctant to accept a plan that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country without returning to their home countries first.

One compromise being promoted by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., would require the immigrants to go to centers across the border and fill out the appropriate paperwork before becoming guest workers. They also would have to have an employer sponsor them to get back in the country. Pence and Bush discussed the idea during a meeting in the Oval Office last week.

Although Bush has repeatedly said it's impractical to force millions of illegal immigrants to leave the country, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president finds the Pence plan "interesting." He said Bush will look at any proposal that might help him get an immigration reform bill out of Congress.

Snow said another idea being discussed is a concept called "triggers." The citizenship and guest worker programs that Bush has insisted must be a part of an immigration overhaul would only be triggered once goals for increasing border security were met.

Bush's stop by the Dunkin' Donuts shop was unannounced. He bought a cup of coffee with artificial sweetener using money he borrowed from an aide since he usually doesn't carry any cash.

Bush met with the two Iranian-American brothers who own the shop, along with other managers. One was from Guatemala and another from El Salvador, and Bush said they all reminded him of the American dream.

He said he asked them about a government program called Basic Pilot that verifies employees' Social Security numbers and checks them against other federal databases. Bush wants to make the voluntary program mandatory _ and it's something the House and Senate agree on. Both sides have included the requirement in bills they have passed.


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