U.S. Senators Near Compromise on Immigration
WASHINGTON — Under pressure to produce
broad immigration reform legislation by the end of the month, a U.S.
Senate panel on Thursday neared agreement on a proposal that would give
some of the 12 million illegal aliens living in the country an
opportunity to earn citizenship.
Although no vote will be held until after a weeklong
congressional recess, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday
appeared ready to back a proposal by panel member Sen. Edward Kennedy,
a Massachusetts Democrat, who has worked on the issue with his
Republican colleague John McCain of Arizona.
The panel, which is working on comprehensive immigration and
border security legislation, will also consider a related proposal that
would allow foreigners to enter the United States as legal guest
workers and then have a chance to earn permanent status.
Republicans are divided over immigration policy, and the
Judiciary Committee plan is likely to spark a firestorm from
conservatives who oppose regularizing the status of illegal immigrants,
saying they would be rewarded after breaking U.S. immigration law.
More than 70 members of the House of Representatives led by
Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, fired off a letter to Senate
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican,
saying measures the panel was considering “doom any chance of a real
reform bill reaching the president’s desk this year.”
But backers cite both economic and security reasons. They say
that providing a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship
will avoid creating a permanent underclass of workers and help bring
illegal aliens out of the shadows.
Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who opposes giving
permanent status to illegals, said after the meeting that the panel
would probably vote for the Kennedy plan.
“The votes are there,” Grassley said.
Kennedy told the committee the proposal was not an amnesty. People
seeking legal status would have to pay a $2,000 fine, apply for a
six-year temporary status, have a job, pay taxes, learn English and
show an understanding of U.S. government.
They would not get permanent status faster than the 3 million foreigners awaiting legal entry, he said.
“There is no moving to the front of the line, there is no free ticket,” Kennedy said. “This is not amnesty.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, quipped that the requirements “probably exclude half of my family.”
The panel also reached tentative agreement on a guest-worker
program sought by President George W. Bush. U.S. business groups favor
creating a temporary-worker program to help fill jobs that Americans
either cannot or will not do. Both business and labor groups also favor
giving current undocumented workers a way to legalize their status.
Details will be worked out during the recess, panel members said.
The panel is working against a deadline set by Majority Leader
Bill Frist. The Tennessee Republican, and possible contender in the
2008 presidential race, said the Senate will take up a bill addressing
only enforcement and border security when lawmakers return on March 27.
But Frist told reporters if the Judiciary Committee approves a
comprehensive bill, it would be considered by the Senate.
“I am committed to border security, interior enforcement and addressing the temporary-worker program,” Frist said.
Whether Congress will finalize immigration legislation before
the November congressional elections is unclear. Both Democrats and
Republicans are likely to use the issue to gain advantage.
The House of Representatives has voted for tough border
security and enforcement legislation with no guest-worker program. The
two sides would have to work out their differences before a bill could
be sent to Bush for his signature.