GOP Senators Seek Immigration Compromise
By SUZANNE GAMBOA, Associated Press Writer 29 minutes
WASHINGTON - Republican senators uncertain of support
for a proposal to allow illegal immigrants with jobs
to remain in this country reached for a compromise
late Monday to bolster votes for the measure.
Meeting into the evening in the office of Majority
Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the lawmakers considered
allowing illegal immigrants who have been in the
country more than five years or have other connections
to the United States to remain legally and eventually
"We're looking at the roots concept, and that is if
they have been here more than five years," Sen. Arlen
Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., said after
leaving the meeting. "That is a reasonable line as to
people who have roots who ought to be treated
differently. And if they have been here less then five
years, they do not have roots to the same extent and
can be treated differently, and that is what we're
The fate of those with less time in the country was
unclear, but Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, suggested they might be asked to go to
ports of entry, like the Texas border city of El Paso.
A similar proposal was made in Specter's committee for
younger, unmarried and more recent illegal immigrants
before they re-entered as authorized guest workers.
Specter said the proposals mostly brought forward by
Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. would be spelled out to
other Republicans on Tuesday morning.
"What we're trying to figure out is something which
will be workable so 11 million undocumented will come
forward, not create a fugitive class," he said.
Frist had raised the possibility of a compromise in a
Sunday talk show, saying illegal immigrants in the
country are not a monolithic group.
"Some have been here 10 years. They're assimilated to
our society and they may have a road to a green card,"
he told CNN's "Late Edition." "But some of those 12
million people here in fact, 40 percent have been
here for less than five years, need to be dealt in a
The evening work was a sign of the pressure senators
are feeling to get a bill passed by week's end. Hagel
and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who also participated
in the meeting, said they were looking for a bill that
would appeal to a broader base and clear the Senate to
begin negotiations with the House.
The House passed a tougher bill last year that would
make being in the country illegally a felony.
The Senate began its second week of debate Monday on
immigration, but had yet to resolve which of three
major proposals it would move forward.
A bill approved by the Judiciary Committee based on
a proposal by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward
M. Kennedy, D-Mass. would allow illegal immigrants
in the United States before Jan. 7, 2004 and who have
jobs, to work legally for an additional six years and
eventually become citizens. The proposal has drawn
opposition from some who consider it amnesty.
A proposal by Frist does not deal with illegal
immigrants but boosts border enforcement and cracks
down on employers who hire illegal workers.
A third bill proposed by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas
and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., would give illegal immigrants up
to five years to leave the country before they can
return legally to apply for permanent residence or be
Earlier Monday, the Senate voted 91-1 in favor of a
proposal by Sen. Lamar Alexander (news, bio, voting
record), R-Tenn., to allow legal immigrants fluent in
English to become U.S. citizens in four years rather
An estimated 7.2 million legal permanent residents
have lived in the United States long enough to become
Americans, according to the Homeland Security
Department's Citizenship and Immigration Services
office. The wait to become an American is five years,
three years if the legal permanent resident marries a
Alexander said a shorter naturalization wait might
motivate more green card holders to seek U.S.
President Bush is backing proposals for temporary work
programs "because that will relieve pressure off the
border," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
"It will allow our Border Patrol agents to focus on
the criminals and the terrorists, the smugglers and
traffickers that are trying to come into this country
for the wrong reasons."
Also Monday, the Senate voted 84-6 in favor of
providing $50 million over five years for crime
fighting by local law enforcement agencies within 100
miles of the U.S.-Mexican border. The House authorized
$100 million over a year for local officials within 25
miles of the border.
Earlier, a Senate panel wrestled with how to reduce a
backlog of immigration cases in federal appeals
courts. Most of the appeals involve people seeking
asylum or those who are refugees. The appeals have
risen from 1,723 cases in 2000 to 12,349 in 2005.
Sen. Lamar Alexander's amendment is S1815.
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