Senate Republicans Cast Doubt On Broad Immigration Bill

Washington (Reuters) -

As President Barack Obama intensifies pressure for wide-ranging immigration reforms, some Republicans in the Congress on Wednesday made clear that a less ambitious, piecemeal approach might be more realistic for 2013.

Lawmakers are divided over how to update the nation’s immigration laws while also dealing with the 11 million undocumented foreigners living in the United States. Also complicating the passage of legislation this year is both parties’ efforts to woo Hispanic votes in the 2014 congressional elections.

In a State of the Union address the Democratic president delivered to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Obama declared, “Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.”

Obama’s top immigration official, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to reinforce the administration’s position.

“Our immigration system is not just broken, it is hurting our country…. and the way to fix it is with comprehensive immigration reform,” Napolitano said.

But conservative Republicans, who mainly questioned Napolitano on what they see as inadequate border security measures, made their case for more limited legislation.

“We might be better dealing with discrete problems” that have bipartisan support rather than “massive immigration reform,” Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama told Napolitano.

Sessions’ comment echoed several Republicans in the House of Representatives suggested last week at an immigration hearing before that chamber’s Judiciary panel.

Republicans note that there is bipartisan support for luring more high-tech workers — mathematicians, engineers, computer specialists and others — from places like India and China. They also see broad backing in Congress for toughening verification of the legal status of workers employed by U.S. companies and improving the overall visa system that controls the number of immigrants.

But most divisive is the emotional question of what to do about the millions of people who entered the United States illegally since 1986, when Congress last reformed immigration laws, and have been otherwise law-abiding residents.