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1582Hastert & Frist: don't make illegal immigration a felony

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  • Greg Cannon
    Apr 11, 2006
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      http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/I/IMMIGRATION?SITE=7219&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2006-04-11-21-12-45

      Apr 11, 9:12 PM EDT

      GOP Chiefs Don't Want Immigrants Charged

      By DAVID ESPO
      AP Special Correspondent

      WASHINGTON (AP) -- The two top Republicans in
      Congress, confronted with internal party divisions as
      well as large public demonstrations, said Tuesday they
      intend to pass immigration legislation that does not
      subject illegal aliens to prosecution as felons.

      A written statement by House Speaker Dennis Hastert of
      Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of
      Tennessee, did not say whether they would seek
      legislation subjecting illegal immigrants to
      misdemeanor prosecution or possibly a civil penalty
      such as a fine.

      "It remains our intent to produce a strong border
      security bill that will not make unlawful presence in
      the United States a felony," the two men said. An
      estimated 11 million men, women and children are in
      the United States illegally.

      The Republican-controlled House passed legislation
      late last year that is generally limited to border
      security measures. It makes illegal immigrants subject
      to felony prosecution.

      Senate efforts to write a broader bill - covering
      border security, a guest worker program and a path to
      citizenship for many of the 11 million in the country
      illegally - are gridlocked with lawmakers on a
      two-week vacation.

      Frist has said he intends to bring the issue back to
      the Senate floor, although he stopped short of a flat
      commitment and the prospects for passage of an
      election-year immigration bill are uncertain.

      The late-afternoon statement by the top GOP leaders in
      both houses came after days of large street
      demonstrations by protesters opposed to criminal
      penalties for illegal immigrants.

      Additionally, in a Washington Post-ABC News poll
      published during the day, only 20 percent of those
      questioned said they favored declaring illegal
      immigrants to be felons and barring them from work.
      More than 60 percent indicated support for the general
      approach envisioned in the leading Senate proposal. It
      includes a requirement that illegal immigrants be
      required to pay a fine and back taxes as part of a
      process of qualifying for eventual citizenship.

      Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D- Mass., dismissed the
      proposal by the GOP leadership, saying: "Actions speak
      louder than words, and there's no running away from
      the fact that the Republican House passed a bill, and
      Senator Frist offered one, that criminalizes
      immigrants."

      "This debate shouldn't be about making criminals out
      of hardworking families ... but rather about
      strengthening our national security and enacting a law
      that reflects our best values and our humanity,"
      Kennedy said.

      The question of a penalty has dogged the debate for
      months and been the subject of intense political
      maneuvering.

      GOP aides pointed out that Rep. James Sensenbrenner,
      R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had
      tried during debate on the House floor to reduce the
      penalty to a misdemeanor.

      The attempt failed on a vote of 257-164, with 65
      Republicans and 191 Democrats opposed. Many of the
      Democrats, including members of the Hispanic
      Congressional Caucus, indicated at the time they
      favored no criminal penalties, and opposed the
      suggested change.

      In their statement, Hastert and Frist said the
      Democrats who did so had demonstrated a "lack of
      compassion." In addition, they renewed the charge that
      Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is seeking to
      "block action on immigration legislation."

      Reid has denied the charges.

      While they leveled their accusations at Reid, the GOP
      leadership has been struggling with internal
      divisions.

      Several House Republican conservatives have
      vociferously denounce Senate proposals as amnesty for
      lawbreakers.

      And while Frist praised the leading Senate proposal
      last week as a "huge breakthrough," he was the only
      member of the GOP leadership to embrace it. Two other
      members of the group, Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay
      Bailey Hutchison of Texas, voiced their opposition.
      Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania opposes the
      measure, according to a spokesman.

      Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who heads the
      party's senatorial campaign committee, declined this
      week through an aide to take a position on the bill.

      A spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the
      second-ranking Republican, sidestepped a question by
      saying the Kentucky lawmaker favors a comprehensive approach.