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Senate sponsor Simpson refuses to give up on troubled immigration reform bill

United States Sen. Alan K. Simpson, who says he has been told ''53 times'' that the landmark immigration reform bill bearing his name is dead, is once again refusing to attend the wake.

The lanky Wyoming Republican, attempting to give new hope for passing the legislation, told reporters Monday at breakfast: ''I honestly believe there's an excellent opportunity'' to save the bill despite election-year politics.

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Senator Simpson expressed hope that a joint House-Senate conference committee would meet this week, before Congress recesses for the Republican National Convention, to begin working out a compromise on the reform bill.

But even as he spoke, the conference process already had run into snags, with some Democrats reported to be reluctant to serve on the committee.

Although Senator Simpson stopped short of calling the next few weeks a ''now or never'' time for immigration reform, he warned that unless the package is approved now, Congress will turn to a piecemeal approach later.

He predicted that the United States will act to halt the 1.5 million illegal aliens crossing its southern borders each year by conducting more ''sweeps'' and ''intrusions in the workplace'' to arrest these persons unless comprehensive reform is passed.

While neither side on the legislation, which is cosponsored in the House by Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D) of Kentucky, is yet declaring victory, the reform faces numerous obstacles during the last weeks of this Congress. Hispanics denounced the legislation steadily in the week of the Democratic National Convention, bitterly opposing the proposed penalties against employers who hire illegal workers.

Simpson said he fears a similar pounding from Republican opponents when his party convenes in Dallas Aug. 20.

GOP resistance could come from conservatives, and especially Texans, who oppose a provision in the bill that would allow millions of illegal residents to be legalized.

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In fact, an unlikely assembly - ranging from the US Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the red tape involved for employers, to civil liberties groups and Hispanic organizations - now meets weekly to discuss its opposition to the bill.

The White House has given little aid. President Reagan has publicly supported immigration reform, but his staff has sometimes sent out conflicting messages.

The Wyoming Republican renewed his promise to take a House-Senate compromise to the White House and obtain a guarantee of a presidential signature before sending the final bill to the House for approval. Some Democrats have charged that the President might try to earn political credit among Hispanics by vetoing the immigration bill.

Simpson said Reagan would restate his support for the Senate version of the bill, although he expected no dramatic push for the legislation by the administration. The President's chief concern was cutting the cost of providing social services, as proposed in the House version and estimated by some to be as high as $12 billion, according to Simpson.

Simpson reserved his harshest criticism for the ''Hispanic leadership types'' who, he says, have misled Hispanic Americans about the contents of the bill. ''I tell Hispanic communities there will be no amnesty'' for aliens now living here illegally ''separate from this bill,'' said Simpson. ''Who speaks for the 2-to- 12 million people who are already here ... left in limbo?''

Helen C. Gonzales, associate council for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), counters that Hispanics at the grass roots oppose the Simpson-Mazzoli bill because they now understand the provisions.

''The legalization program has so many problems,'' she said, that many aliens will fear that if they apply they will be deported. ''We're saying it's not worth the risk,'' she says, since the bill also includes penalties against employers who hire illegals, a provision Hispanic leaders say would lead to discrimination aagainst anyone who appeared foreign.

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