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Divided House Republicans grapple with immigration

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans confronted the politically volatile issue of immigration yesterday, their ranks divided and their way forward unclear, even as national GOP leaders pressured them to act.

The latest prominent Republican to wade into the debate was former President George W. Bush, who urged Congress to reach a "positive resolution" on overhauling U.S. immigration laws, a goal that eluded him during his presidency. His comments during brief remarks at a naturalization ceremony at his presidential library in Dallas suggested a need for Republicans to deal with immigration in a broad way.

"We can uphold our tradition of assimilating immigrants and honoring our heritage of our nation built on the rule of law. But we have a problem. The laws governing the immigration system aren't working; the system is broken," Bush said.

At the White House, President Barack Obama met with members of the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus, as the fate of one of his top second-term priorities rested in the hands of the restive House GOP.

Said presidential press secretary Jay Carney, "It's the moral thing to do. We'll keep at it."

Republican lawmakers convened a special meeting yesterday afternoon to try to work out a summer strategy following Senate passage late last month of a far-reaching bill. The Senate measure would spend tens of billions on border security, create new legal avenues for workers to come to the United States, require employers to verify their workers' legal status and establish a path to possible eventual citizenship for the estimated 11 million already here illegally.

The calculus in the Republican-controlled House may be more complex and daunting.

Many of the conservatives who wield power in the House are in districts with few Hispanic voters and are thus insulated from much of the pressure to act on immigration. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) already has rejected the idea of bringing the Senate bill to the House floor. He has pledged that no legislation will move without the support of a majority of his Republicans.

Like many in his conference, Boehner has said border security must come first. And many Republicans prefer a piecemeal, step-by-step approach rather than a single big bill like the one the Senate passed.

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