Compromise on immigration reform legislation appears elusive

House members attack less-punitive Senate measure allowing most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to remain in the country while seeking permanent citizenship.

As they continue to flog a Senate-passed immigration bill in field hearings across the country, House Republicans are still holding out hope that Congress can clear a more limited border security measure this fall.

This week, House GOP members held field hearings to showcase their bill that would authorize money for additional fencing along with Mexican border, streamline deportation proceedings and force employers to verify the legality of their workers. While making their pitch, they also have been slamming a less-punitive Senate measure that would allow most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to remain in the country while seeking permanent citizenship.

During a Monday hearing in Gainesville, Ga., Reps. Tom Price and Charlie Norwood, both Peach State Republicans, attacked the Senate bill with Price noting that it would create an environment "depressing domestic wages and welcoming illegal aliens across our borders."

While House Republicans view their get-tough bill as a way to rally the base in a daunting election year, GOP leaders also will make some attempt to mollify the White House and the business community, both of which would like to see some sort of guestworker program for illegal immigrants.

Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., noted the tightrope he walks in an interview published Thursday in his hometown paper, the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill. "To come together with a border control bill like we have and a Senate bill that's inherently flawed, and try to make law out of the two of them, you're going to have some problems. What we need is to take a fresh look at this," said Hastert, who added that House leaders might incorporate findings from their field hearings in future legislation.

After a Thursday hearing in El Paso, Texas, House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., was uncertain about prospects for a compromise.

"In order to reach a compromise with a Senate, there are going to have to be some things that both houses give up that a lot of people very strongly support. I don't know if it can be done. I don't know if a compromise can be reached," he said.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the conservative Republican Study Group, plans to visit San Diego and El Paso next week for a fact-finding mission as well as an attempt to promote his proposal to allow most illegal immigrants to stay and work in the United States but only after the government secures the country's borders. The Pence proposal would force illegal immigrants to at least briefly depart the country.