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June 7, 2006
Bush Recasts Immigration Rhetoric For House

George Bush, like any good rancher, has to perform some fence-tending from time to time. Apparently he sees the need to do some with House Republicans who have opposed his ideas about fence-tending on the Rio Grande, and he now wants to emphasize border enforcement as a prerequisite for any comprehensive reform:

President Bush tried on Tuesday to win back the trust of conservatives who have distanced themselves from him on immigration, promising to "get this border enforced" and warning those who enter the country illegally that "if you get caught, you get sent home."

After weeks of embracing "comprehensive immigration reform" — Washington shorthand for a Senate bill that includes a temporary guest-worker program and a promise of citizenship for some illegal immigrants — Mr. Bush shifted his tone in remarks at the Border Patrol training academy here. Having nudged the Senate into action, Mr. Bush is turning his attention to the House, where Republicans deride the Senate plan as amnesty and are balking at the idea of compromise.

After watching Border Patrol trainees conduct mock security stops under a blistering 100-degree sun, Mr. Bush told the agents "I want the country to pay attention to what you're doing."

He promised to add 6,000 agents by 2008 — bringing the total to 18,000 — to build high-tech fences and new patrol roads, and "to end 'catch and release' once and for all on the southern border of the United States," a reference to the practice of releasing those who enter illegally and are not immediately sent home.

Bush certainly needs to find some common ground with House Republicans if he expects to get immigration reform out of this session of Congress. His adaptive rhetoric at least shows that he has heard their concerns, even if the Senate package doesn't really address them. He didn't convince Rep. Steven Pearce of Artesia, NM, who liked the focus on border enforcement but still doesn't want a repeat of Simpson-Mazzoli.

Yesterday, some suggestion that the Senate might accept a phased implementation of comprehensive immigration reform began to arise. Hillary Clinton stated that the normalization process could be delayed for one to two years in order to ensure that border security was successfully implemented. The White House also appeared open to that compromise, and it will probably gain some traction among the House GOP caucus willing to buy extensive border security with some normalization, as long as the former comes before the latter.

Will that fly with the hardliners on both sides? It might narrow their numbers sufficiently to gain passage, but it would be hard to imagine them changing their minds. Those inclined to see illegals as noble proletarians denied some basic right to ignore borders will not support border enforcement, and those inclined to see anything short of deportation (self- or other-initiated) as amnesty will still feel the same way about phased implementation.

However, for those who see the Senate bill as another Simpson-Mazzoli, including that delay with the kind of security offered in the House version could be enough to gain a majority of both chambers. The main reason for an insistence on a comprehensive bill is that no politician wants to revisit this policy abbatoir more than once in a career. They will certainly appreciate a way out of this debate that actually brings it to a conclusion -- an impulse that no observer should underrate. If this effort fails, Congress will have to start over from scratch in the next session, and no elected official wants to go through this all over again.

Expect the conference committee to put together some type of phased implementation that gives all sides a piece of what they want. If the conference committee does succeed in producing legislation, Congress will pass it quickly and easily. For those reasons, keep an eye on the composition of the committee to get the sense of what it will produce.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 7, 2006 6:15 AM

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