Senate debates immigration

Via the Associated Press

Mar. 2, 2006 10:00 AM
WASHINGTON –


The Senate on
Thursday took up what a key senator called the “gigantic task” of
tightening U.S. borders against undocumented immigration, while
maintaining the flow of low-wage workers for U.S. business.

The
effort pits two Republican bases against each other leading up to the
midterm congressional elections. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman
Arlen Specter, R-Pa., opened the panel’s first of what will be many
sessions trying to put together the legislation, saying he’s been
flooded with negative reaction to a bill that he proposed as a starting
point.

“I have seen virtually no agreement on anything. Emotions are at an all-time high,” he said.

Nonetheless, Specter said he hoped his committee could have a bill ready by the end of March.

The House passed a border security bill last year – pleasing
conservatives clamoring for an immigration crackdown. But that came
only after House leaders beat back an attempt by some GOP members to
include President Bush’s proposal for a temporary worker program.

In contrast, the Senate is wading right into the thorny guest worker issue.

Specter said a solution is needed for the problem of 11 million undocumented immigrants “in the shadows” of the country.

“Our first job is to bring them out of the shadows and that is a very big job,” Specter said.

He acknowledged some Republicans want all undocumented immigrants sent
home, but said that if undocumented immigrants know they will be kicked
out when they “show up” then they will not come out of the shadows.

He also said he does not object to providing a tract to legalization
for immigrants who work in the country as proposed by Sens. John
McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. But, Specter added:
“The political reality is that is going to be very difficult to do.”

Bush called for a temporary worker proposal in January 2004, but it quickly got bogged down in election-year politics.

With the business lobby pressing on the issue, Bush has renewed his call for temporary visas for workers.

Pressure to move forward intensified this week as governors meeting in
Washington said they consider immigration one of their major concerns
and made it an agenda item in their private meetings with Bush and his
Cabinet.

Specter’s plan would allow immigrants who entered this country before
Jan. 4, 2004, and who have jobs to participate for up to six years in
the temporary worker program.

The bill and another proposed by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon
Kyl, R-Ariz., would force workers to return to their countries of
origin if they want to become permanent legal U.S. residents.

The Cornyn-Kyl legislation goes further than Specter’s and mandates
that undocumented immigrants leave the country within five years.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been promoting his own immigration
reform proposal in town halls around the country. His bill has the
backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, other business groups,
immigration advocates and some labor unions.

His bill, co-authored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would penalize
employers who hire undocumented workers but allows immigrants
participating in the temporary worker program to work toward
eligibility for legal permanent residence.

“I have serious concerns about Senator Specter’s proposal and I hope
that we can improve it,” Kennedy said at a rally of immigration workers
Wednesday.

Some Republicans, however, want to toughen up Specter’s bill. Alabama
Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions said Specter’s proposal is “like someone
trying to leap a 10-foot ravine and going 9 feet.”

“It just doesn’t get there on law enforcement,” Sessions said.

He said the upcoming immigration debate will be a test for Congress on
whether it wants immigration law enforced. He’s expected to offer some
amendments to Specter’s bill, including one to allow local law officers
to enforce immigration law.

Presidential politics is an undercurrent in the debate. Majority Leader
Bill Frist, McCain and Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who has
pushed immigration legislation to provide a steady supply of workers
for the agriculture industry, are considered potential 2008
presidential candidates.

Frist told several key senators early last month that he planned to
take up immigration on the Senate floor March 27, leaving open the
possibility that he might offer his own immigration bill if the
Judiciary Committee did not yet have a consensus bill.

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