Right flank hobbles Bush on immigration

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The immigration issue in Congress has touched many raw nerves across the country, with no end in sight.Any compromise on a new law seems distant now unless President Bush can find a way for compromise with conservatives in his own party in the House.

The fight in Congress has also unveiled some lawmakers who will be happy to see no law unless their harsh views prevail. It is not a pretty picture:

• Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, wants illegal immigrants treated as felons. He accuses the president of rewarding many of them with amnesty under certain conditions.

Too late, Sensenbrenner now says the felony provision in the House bill was a mistake and will be corrected presumably in conference once the Senate passes the bill. Where was he before the outcry against such adumb move in the first place? Answer: being quiet about it.

• Rep. Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, is on the warpath against illegal immigrants 24-7. Some observers think he wants to ride the issue to a run for president.

Forget about it. Even conservative Republicans can't be that much out of touch with reality. Besides, Italian-Americans should remind Tancredo about his ancestry.

• In the Senate, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, both Republicans,are the leading naysayers, although there are a few Democrats joining in to derail any passage.

"The Senate should be ashamed of itself," Sessions said in a floor speech while denouncing the legislation. "It should never, ever become law."

While Sessions was declaring war on immigration, Inhofe got into the act. Inhofe, a hard-eyed Republican, said Latinos should be insulted to be told that they can't learn English, so his amendment to make English the national language passed easily. It was softened somewhat in a later amendment.

Still, I think Inhofe's maneuver was an insult, but to himself. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader from Nevada, said the tinge of the amendment was racist. "It is directed at people who speak Spanish," Reid said. Reid said he wasn't accusing Inhofe of racism, but his words were on the record.

Let's face it. Some Latinos learn English rapidly and some do not. Can't we remain bilingual while moving as fast as possible in public schools on English?

The House and Senate have not exactly covered themselves in glory on immigration. The president made a strong move on the issue in his TV address early in the week. It may be up to him to salvage the legislation.