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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative Republicans working to block a compromise immigration bill risk endorsing a "silent amnesty" by insisting on unfeasible mass deportations, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in an interview published on Thursday.
In remarks to USA Today, Chertoff also criticized liberal immigrant rights advocates, saying they could prolong the anguish of immigrant families by withholding support for legislation that could give them legal status.
Chertoff spoke to the newspaper's editorial board in a preview of a Bush administration media campaign to build support of broad immigration legislation being debated by the U.S. Senate, USA Today said.
The compromise bill brokered between the White House and a bipartisan group of senators ties tough border security and work place enforcement measures to the guest worker program and a plan to legalize an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
The measure has drawn criticism from many quarters and its fate in the Senate is uncertain.
The bill has been criticized for placing new limits on family-based immigration and conservative Republicans oppose the legalization program saying it would reward people who broke U.S. laws.
Chertoff acknowledged there is "a fundamental unfairness" in legislation that permits illegal immigrants to remain in the United States but said trying to force them to leave would be impossible, USA Today reported.
"We are bowing to reality," Chertoff said.
He dismissed the position of some opponents who argue that illegal immigrants will leave if strict enforcement of U.S. laws makes it impossible for them to find a job.
"You're not going to replace 12 million people who are doing the work they're currently doing," Chertoff said. "If they don't leave, then you are going to give them silent amnesty. You're either going to let them stay or you're going to be hypocritical."
Chertoff warned there would be more mass roundups of illegal workers if the workers do not get a chance to become legal.
"We're going to enforce the law," he said. "People all around the country will be seeing teary-eyed children whose parents are going to be deported."