Senators Reach Compromise on Immigration Measure (Update1)
April 6 (Bloomberg) — Senate Republicans and Democrats
reached an agreement on procedures for allowing undocumented
aliens to apply for citizenship, clearing an obstacle that
stalled legislation overhauling U.S. immigration laws.
“We have a huge breakthrough,” Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist of Tennessee told reporters today.
Democrats, including Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts
and Minority Leader Harry Reid, said the compromise may lead to
passage of the Senate measure this week.
“Hopefully in the next 24 hours there will be a real
celebration,” Reid said. President George W. Bush supports it
too and will publicly endorse it later today, said Arizona
Senator John McCain.
The compromise splits the estimated 11 million undocumented
immigrants into three groups, based on how long they have been in
the U.S., for the purpose of setting rules on their eligibility
to apply for legal status.
Under the plan hammered out by Republicans last night, the
more than 1 million undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S.
after Jan. 7, 2004, would have to return to their home countries
and apply for a new guest-worker program from there.
The estimated 3 million immigrants who illegally entered
between 2001 and 2004 would have three years to apply for legal
status as part of a new temporary-worker program and pay as much
as $3,000 in fines. To receive their temporary-worker visas, they
would have to travel to a land port of entry and physically leave
the U.S. before immediately re-entering.
Once they receive the visas, they could stay as long as six
years while applying for one of 130,000 permanent residency cards
set aside annually for the group. If they don’t win permanent
residency after six years, they would have to leave.
More Than Five Years
Undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. more than
five years, an estimated 7 million people, would be able to keep
their jobs after paying a $2,000 fine and meeting other criteria,
such as learning English.
Before a two-week recess begins at the end of this week, the
Senate is working to pass an overhaul of immigration policies
that includes strengthening border security and creating a guest-
worker program. Debate on the measure had stalled as Republicans
negotiated how to treat undocumented immigrants and Democrats
worked to block amendments they said were too harsh.
The House last year passed legislation that increases border
security without addressing a guest-worker program or allowing
undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status. Any Senate
measure would have to be merged with the House proposal.
Some Republicans said they remain opposed to the plan.
“It’s unacceptable to me,” Republican Jeff Sessions of
Alabama said. “We’re not ready to do this right now.”
Paying a Fine
Republicans Mel Martinez of Florida, Chuck Hagel of
Nebraska, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and McCain spent days
negotiating before agreeing on this proposal.
Under the agreement, all undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
for more than five years would be able to acquire legal residency
and U.S. citizenship after about 11 years.
The compromise doesn’t change guest-worker proposals that
would allow 400,000 immigrants each year to enter the U.S. for
Frist said senators will have the opportunity over the next
two days to vote on three separate immigration proposals. They
are the compromise introduced last night; Frist’s own legislation
that focuses on border security and enforcement of immigration
laws; and a Judiciary Committee measure that lets undocumented
immigrants in the country before Jan. 7, 2004, apply for legal
status and stay at their jobs in the U.S. after paying a $1,000
fine, passing a background check and learning English.
The votes will “allow people to express where they are,”
Frist said last night. “We can’t predict the outcome.”
Democrats today failed to gain the 60 votes necessary to
limit debate on the committee proposal. Thirty-nine Senators
voted to end debate with 60 voting against it.