Republican leaders at the US House of Representatives have announced a series of field hearings on immigration during the August recess, a move that could bury President George W Bush's high-profile effort to overhaul immigration until after the November midterm elections, newspapers reported on Wednesday.
The announcement is the clearest sign yet that House Republicans have largely given up on passing a broad rewrite of the nation's immigration laws this year, The Washington Post reported.
They believe that their get-tough approach -- including building a wall along the border with Mexico and deporting millions of illegal immigrants -- is far more popular with voters than the approach backed by Bush and the Senate, which would create a guest-worker program and allow many illegal immigrants to apply for US citizenship, the report said.
"We are going to listen to the American people, and we are going to get a bill that is right," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Several House committee chairmen will hold field hearings in congressional districts in the Southwest, the South and other areas where the issue of illegal immigration is especially potent.
The hearings would take place before the start of the formal negotiating process between the House and the Senate, which could take months to complete given the complexity of the issue and the competing business of labor and social concerns.
Senate negotiators, however, played down the hearings, saying that informal talks have already started between the House and the Senate.
The decision to launch a new round of hearings around the country on legislation already passed by the House and the Senate places a serious obstacle in front of Bush's drive for major changes in immigration policy, The New York Times said.
The timing of the hearings means that formal congressional negotiations would not begin until September.
The House and the Senate would have to begin anew in 2007 should Congress fail to act this year, the Times said.
At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush would press for legislation. "The president is undeterred in his efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill," she said.