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Bush Immigration Proposals Face Uphill Battle in House of Representatives

As the Senate continues work on immigration reform, President Bush's proposals to strengthen U.S. border security still face an uphill battle in the House of Representatives.

Despite the president's call for Congress to send him an immigration bill he could sign, few lawmakers are ready to predict whether the House and Senate can come up with final legislation before November's mid-term congressional elections.

In an off-camera briefing on Tuesday for reporters, House Republican Majority Leader John Boehner praised the president for helping to frame the immigration debate.

He called Bush's proposals a big step in the right direction, but added serious disagreements remain over a guest worker program, which President Bush supports, and the general question of providing a path to citizenship.

Any bill emerging from the Senate will have to be reconciled with a measure passed by the House last December.

That legislation takes a much stronger enforcement approach than the bill being considered by the Senate, and would make illegal presence in the U.S. a felony rather than a civil offense.

Boehner expresses confidence that Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner, the primary backer of the tougher House bill, will be able to work with Senate negotiators to produce a responsible immigration bill.

But a statement by Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn underscores resistance among conservative House Republicans to changing legislation the House passed last December:

"Let's say no to amnesty, or any type of amnesty, said Marsha Blackburn. "Let's continue to support construction of a border, whether it's a wall or surveillance. Let's secure our border."

President Bush says tougher border measures would include deployment of up to 6,000 National Guard troops, but stresses this should not be considered a militarization of the border with Mexico.

These steps would combine with a guest worker program to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, but the president reiterated this should not be considered amnesty.

Republican divisions, meanwhile, are being used by opposition Democrats to score political points. The number two Democratic leader in the House, Congressman Steny Hoyer, described Republicans as "deeply, viscerally and vigorously divided."

Hispanic members of Congress used a Capitol Hill news conference to underscore their support for the Senate version of immigration reform.

Luis Gutierrez is an Illinois Democrat and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus:

"The question we have before us [is] do we continue to welcome people who seek a better life, who are entrepreneurial and hard-working, and ready to roll up their sleeves, and earn each opportunity," said Luis Gutierrez. "Or do we roll up that welcome mat and retreat behind multi-billion dollar fences, mass deportations, militarized borders, and punitive penalties that would make felons of social work or religious leaders, nannies and even a bus-boy?"

While praising President Bush for asserting leadership on the immigration issue, Hispanic lawmakers said his Monday speech failed to offer enough specifics.