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Capitol Hill holds watch on immigration events

A national worker boycott set for Monday may spur Senate to act - or erode support for broad reform.

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Meat-packing plants are planning to pack it in for the day. In Las Vegas, some casinos are bracing for a shutdown, and restaurants from San Diego to Bethesda, Md., are about to test whether senior staff can bus tables or sear scallops.

As companies cope with the hard-to-predict impact of Monday's worker boycott by immigrants and their backers, a big unknown is political: Will the walkout help break a legislative logjam in the Senate over immigration reform - and even affect outcomes in fall congressional elections?

Here's the state of play on Capitol Hill. The GOP-controlled House has approved a border-security bill, including a provision that makes it a felony (rather than a civil crime) to be in the US illegally, that Democrats believe will hurt Republicans in the fall elections. The Senate, in considering its version of the bill, is stuck over whether to include a guest-worker program and path to legal status for as many as 12 million foreigners already in the country.

Last week, President Bush weighed in. He summoned key senators to the White House on Tuesday to help break the impasse. He promised to help work out a compromise with the House, should the Senate produce a bill. "I'm not a supporter of boycotts. I'm a supporter of comprehensive immigration," he said at a White House press conference on Friday. A temporary guest-worker program will "make it easier to enforce the border," Mr. Bush added.

By the weekend the Senate's Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, signaled "flexibility" on allowing votes on amendments to the bill - the procedural roadblock that earlier had shut down debate. "He still has very serious concerns about the idea that this bill will be hijacked in conference by the right wing of the [Republican] party," says Democratic spokesman Jim Manley.

Both political parties are waiting to see the scale and tenor of Monday's boycott, especially whether it provokes a backlash to immigrant rights - a development that would help the case of those who do not want a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.


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