The Bush administration floated elements of an immigration plan on Wednesday that would make it harder for millions of illegal immigrants to gain citizenship than under legislation passed by the Senate last year, according to officials in both parties.
These officials said the administration also suggested barring future guest workers who enter the country legally from bringing family members with them - a proposal unlikely to survive intact.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss elements of a plan that was not yet public.
Republican Party conflict
President Bush and Democratic leaders of Congress have both pledged to seek a compromise on immigration legislation this year, and the administration's point men, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, sat down in the Capitol with key senators of both parties for an initial meeting.
Efforts to pass compromise legislation last year collapsed when Republican lawmakers objected to a Senate-passed bill that created a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million to 12 million men women and children in the country illegally. Bush spoke favorably of the measure, even making a prime-time televised speech at one point backing a plan to allow millions of immigrants an eventual chance at citizenship as part of a comprehensive approach to the issue.
But conservative critics attacked it as amnesty, and it died last fall when the expiring Republican-controlled Congress adjourned without taking final action.
A new visa
Administration officials have been meeting privately in recent weeks with key Republicans, including some who opposed the 2006 legislation, in hopes of forging a general agreement within the party.
As described by several officials, the proposal would allow currently illegal immigrants to stay in the United States under a new Z visa. They could apply for so-called green cards, taking their place in line alongside men and women who are in the country legally and want citizenship, and would be required to undergo periodic background checks while waiting.
Immigrants possessing green cards have lawful permanent residency status.
The length of their wait would depend on the number of green cards available - a feature that officials in both parties said would mean millions of illegal immigrants would have to wait far longer than under the Senate bill of last year. "It takes longer and they've got to go through the same channels as everybody else," said one Republican who had been briefed on the administration's proposal.
Under last year's bill, immigrants in the U.S. longer than five years could apply for citizenship without leaving the country. Those in the U.S. for more than two years but fewer than five would be required to go to a border point of entry, but they could return quickly as legal temporary workers while their citizenship application was pending.