Immigration Legislation At Standstill

President Bush, center, makes an exit after an unscheduled visit to a Dunkin' Donuts restaurant, owned by Abolhossein Ejtemai, right, and Ali Assayesh, second right, both Iranian immigrants, in Alexandria, Va., Wednesday, July 5, 2006 outside Washington.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
President Bush stopped by a doughnut shop Wednesday to promote a program to help verify that workers are in the country legally. Behind the scenes, he explored a proposal for breaking a congressional gridlock blocking action on immigration legislation.

Flanked by the immigrant owners and employees of the shop in Washington's suburbs, Bush said he wants a rational plan that would treat immigrants with dignity while enforcing the borders so fewer people sneak across. It also would provide a way for some of those already in the United States to become citizens.

"We're not going to be able to deport people who have been here, working hard and raising their families," Bush said. "So I want to work with Congress to come up with a rational way forward."

Caught in the middle of the immigration debate are business owners like Paul Galletta, reports CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts. Galletta's family owns the largest blueberry farm in the United States – and most of his workers are documented immigrants from Mexico.

"I think we should go with the guest worker program first because it would be crippling to the industries in the United States if we just made it to be a felony to hire these people," Galletta told Pitts.

The immigration legislation that Bush is demanding is caught between House and Senate negotiators who so far have been unable to work out disagreements over how to handle an estimated 12 million foreigners living illegally in the United States. Leaders of Bush's Republican Party in the House of Representatives, who are holding immigration hearings across the country this week, have been more reluctant to accept a plan that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country but would force them to return to their home countries before returning as a legal immigrant.

One compromise being promoted by Republican Rep. Mike Pence would require immigrants to go to centers across the border and fill out appropriate paperwork before becoming guest workers. They also would have to have an employer as a sponsor to return to the country. Pence and Bush discussed the idea last week during a meeting in Bush's official Oval Office.

Although Bush has said repeatedly that it is impractical to force millions of illegal immigrants to leave the country, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president finds the Pence plan interesting. He said Bush will look at any proposal that might help him get an immigration overhaul out of Congress.

Snow said another idea being discussed is a concept called "triggers." The citizenship and guest worker programs that Bush has insisted must be a part of an immigration overhaul would be triggered only after goals for increasing border security had been met.

Bush's stop by the doughnut shop was unannounced. He bought a cup of coffee with artificial sweetener using money he borrowed from an aide since he usually does not carry cash.

Bush met with the two Iranian-American brothers who own the shop, along with other managers from Guatemala and El Salvador. Bush said they reminded him of the American dream.

He said he asked them about a government program called Basic Pilot that would verify employees' Social Security numbers and check them against other federal databases.

The Social Security Administration controls the government's pension plans for the poor and elderly. The card that signifies registration, supposed to be carried by almost all Americans, is the nearest U.S. equivalent to a universal identification card common in other developed countries.

Meanwhile, New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a Senate committee hearing that the economy of New York City and the entire United States would collapse if illegal immigrants were deported en masse.

Testifying before the panel in Philadelphia, Bloomberg said New York is home to more than 3 million immigrants and that a half-million of them came to the country illegally.

"Although they broke the law by illegally crossing our borders ... our city's economy would be a shell of itself had they not, and it would collapse if they were deported," Bloomberg said. "The same holds true for the nation."