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Senate Passes Comprehensive Immigration Bill


WASHINGTON, May 25 — The Senate easily passed a comprehensive immigration bill this evening, but conservatives in the House of Representatives said they would continue to oppose any attempts at a compromise and Republican leaders acknowledged that delivering a bill to President Bush's desk would be enormously difficult.

The Senate bill passed 62 to 36, with 23 Republicans joining 38 Democrats and one independent in one of the few displays of bipartisanship on a big piece of legislation in years.

But the bill's path from here leads straight into a deep divide among Republicans, with conservatives in the House suggesting that they will not support any compromise that includes a central provision of the Senate bill, its call to give most illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens. They have vowed to fight to prevent such legislation from becoming law, and they have the support of many grass-roots conservatives around the country.

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader, said today that he was hopeful that the Senate and House could reach a compromise. But when asked what form that compromise would take, he acknowledged he did not know.

"This is a very difficult issue," Mr. Boehner said. "We have two very separate and distinct directions that we're going when it comes to controlling our borders, enforcing our laws. I don't underestimate the difficulty of the House and Senate trying to come together in an agreement."

Conservatives in the House said they did not intend to budge. But moderates in the House countered that they believe the ground is shifting, even if slightly.

They pointed to Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, the leader of the conservative caucus in the House, who proposed a bill this week that would allow illegal immigrants to become guest workers, although they would not be allowed to become permanent residents or citizens.

They also pointed to Mr. Bush's aggressive push for a deal that would include a temporary worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. And they noted the sizeable numbers of Senate Republicans including the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, who offered vigorous support for the legislation.

All of those developments, they said, might provide enough political cover for some anxious Republicans to sign on to a plan for a plan that might include a temporary worker program.

Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and a supporter of legalizing illegal immigrants, said that a week ago he was betting that the House and the Senate would not even be able to agree on a meeting.

Now, he says he describes the chances of a House-Senate compromise bill as "50-50."

"I think the dynamics are changing," Mr. Flake said. "The ball's back in our court. We have to move."

The Senate worked through the morning and afternoon on a final series of amendments to the bill, including a proposal by Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, that would have permitted immigration authorities to share or use information submitted in an application for legal status if the application was denied. It was rejected on a 49-to-49 vote.

Supporters of the bill hailed the coalition of Republicans and Democrats that fended off conservatives' repeated efforts to kill it. Enactment of the measure would also be a victory for President Bush, who has thrown his support behind it.

"We're now down the homestretch," said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, one of the bill's architects, prior to the bill's final passage by the Senate.

In December, the House defied Mr. Bush's call for a guest worker program and passed a border security bill that would criminalize illegal immigrants' presence in the country. Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, said Wednesday that he and other House conservatives remained steadfast in "support for a security-first approach to immigration."

Senators and Bush administration officials have quickly turned their attention to wooing the House. For the second straight week, the administration dispatched Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, to a meeting of House Republicans to press Mr. Bush's case for an approach broader than theirs.

In an effort to reassure conservatives, administration officials also moved swiftly to make good on their promise to reinforce beleaguered Border Patrol agents, telling the House Armed Services Committee that the first contingent of up to 6,000 National Guard troops would be deployed to the border with Mexico on June 1.

A number of Senate Republicans, including Mr. McCain, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said that they were reaching out to their House colleagues and that some seemed interested in finding common ground. Mr.

McCain said he had spoken to Representative Michael N. Castle, Republican of Delaware, who told him that several of his colleagues were interested in supporting a compromise.

But Mr. Castle, a moderate who supports the outlines of the Senate bill, warned that the negotiations ahead would be extremely hard and said both the measure produced by the House and the one produced by the Senate might end up being significantly rewritten.

"There are House members who think the Senate has already gone too far," Mr. Castle said. "Blending it with the House bill is going to be a very difficult process."

"I wish I could tell you that I think a majority of the House is looking for the same kind of solution" as the Senate, he said. "I couldn't say that right now."

Senators opposed to their chamber's bill said they were now placing hopes on their allies in the House.

"We've had some good debate in the Senate," said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who is a fierce critic of the measure. "But it's still not fixed, in my opinion, in a whole number of ways. What really needs to be done is for the bill to be pulled down."

Under the Senate agreement, illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years or more, about seven million people, would eventually be granted citizenship if they remained employed, passed background checks, paid fines and back taxes, and enrolled in English classes.

Illegal immigrants who have lived here two to five years, about three million people, would have to leave the country briefly and receive a temporary work visa before returning, as a guest worker. Over time, they would be allowed to apply for permanent residency and ultimately citizenship.

Illegal immigrants who have been here less than two years, about one million people, would be required to leave the country altogether. They could apply for the guest worker program, but they would not be guaranteed acceptance in it.

The legislation would also require employers to use a new employment verification system that would distinguish between legal and illegal workers. In addition, it would impose stiff fines for violations by employers, create legal-immigrant documents resistant to counterfeiting, increase the number of Border Patrol agents and mandate other enforcement measures.

Critics of the bill did gain some notable victories. They won passage on amendments that call for 370 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico, designate English as the national language and reduce the number of foreign guest workers to be admitted annually to 200,000 a year from 320,000.

John O'Neil contributed reporting from New York for this article.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times of Friday, May 26, 2006.

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