Washington—U.S. congressional leaders are giving up on broad immigration legislation that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants and instead will concentrate on border security ahead of the elections, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said on Wednesday.
“I think it would be next to impossible to pass a comprehensive bill that includes dealing with the diversity of 12 million people here in the next three weeks,” the Tennessee Republican told reporters.
President George W. Bush backs comprehensive immigration legislation along the lines passed by the U.S. Senate. That bill would have created a guest worker program and put millions of illegal immigrants on a path toward U.S. citizenship.
House Republicans held a series of hearings over the summer to highlight their concerns with the Senate bill. House leaders plan to meet on Thursday to discuss how to push border security legislation through Congress before lawmakers break at the end of the month to campaign for November 7 congressional elections.
“Congress will put legislation on the president’s desk this fall that will strengthen our borders,” House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters on Tuesday.
Frist’s comments drew an angry response from Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who helped write the Senate bill.
“How can Republicans say they are for making America safer when they can’t even pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill to protect our borders?” he said in a statement. “They are so divided over immigration that it will take leadership from the president to break the impasse.”
But proponents of comprehensive legislation say sooner or later Congress will have to address the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the country.
“There are some very powerful players who still want it to happen,” said Tamar Jacoby, an immigration analyst at the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.