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The Senate-House conferees have hit snags, especially over protection against job bias. But even the bill's chief opponent, Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D), concedes he will have trouble stopping the reform compromise.
''I can't stop it in conference,'' he said in an interview as the House-Senate panel began its work last week. The Californian, who is the dean of Hispanic members of Congress, said that he still hoped to defeat the measure on the floor of the House, where it squeaked through with only a five-vote margin earlier this year.
Since then, Hispanics have mounted an intense campaign against the reform, even though it offers amnesty to some Hispanics now living in the US illegally.
Meanwhile, some conservatives have fought the bill because they dislike any amnesty for illegal aliens.
Despite the array of opponents, House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts has promised to take the bill to the House floor if the conference chairman, Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D) of New Jersey, makes that request. The speaker downplays the political dangers in the bill. ''I suppose it's a side issue somewhere along the line,'' he said last week. ''I don't see it's any earth-shaking development,'' whether the bill passes or not. He added that he had not spoken recently to Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale about the bill, which Mr. Mondale has vowed to fight. The speaker said the two have an understanding that ''he and I would not talk about legislation'' until the end of the congressional session Oct. 5.
The biggest hurdle for the bill now could be time. The conference still must work out an agreement on protections against job bias and on a cutoff date for alien residents eligible for legalization. The House version would offer amnesty to qualified residents living here since January 1982; the Senate offers it for those here since 1980.
Unless the conference finishes soon, the bill could be declared a goner once again. The legislation faces a threatened filibuster in the Senate, where it has twice passed overwhelmingly, and its supporters would probably need several days to overcome delay tactics.
But even if it misses the deadline, Simpson maintains that the reform still has life. There's always the possibility of a lame-duck session after the elections, he adds.