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Originally published Monday, December 12, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Tough immigration bill up for vote

Driven by the rising anger of constituents, House Republicans are pushing ahead with tough legislation to tighten control of U.S. borders and clamp down...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Driven by the rising anger of constituents, House Republicans are pushing ahead with tough legislation to tighten control of U.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 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. Advocates, including the Republican leadership, say action is needed immediately to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, and that 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., 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.

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 illegal 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.

Under the bill, employers would be mandated to confirm the authenticity of employees' Social Security numbers against a national database of legitimate numbers. All illegal immigrants apprehended at the border would have to be detained, and deportation processes would be streamlined.

Penalties for smuggling immigrants would be stiffened, with new mandatory minimum sentences. Such sentences also would be established for immigrants who re-enter illegally after deportation.

Many Republicans hope to go still further when the bill reaches the floor, probably Thursday. They are demanding a vote on an amendment that would end the right to automatic citizenship for any baby born on U.S. soil, and some are pushing for construction of a 2,000-mile fence on the southern border.

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Latino political organizations are incensed by the bill. Cecilia Muñoz, vice president for policy at the National Council of La Raza, says the measure would overwhelm the nation's jails and law-enforcement agencies without effectively stemming the flow of illegal immigrants.

Access to immigration courts and judicial review would be severely curtailed, and because illegal immigrants would be declared felons, their chances at naturalization would depend on never getting caught, she said.

The business lobby is not happy, either. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has expressed disappointment that there is no temporary-worker program and called the bill's mandate on employer verification impractical and unrealistic.

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