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Senate puts off immigration action

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070521/ap_on_go_co/congress_immigration_25 Senate puts off immigration action By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, Associated Press Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , May 21 8:16 PM
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070521/ap_on_go_co/congress_immigration_25

      Senate puts off immigration action

      By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, Associated Press Writer Mon
      May 21, 6:41 PM ET

      WASHINGTON - Senate leaders agreed Monday that they
      would wait until June to take final action on a
      bipartisan plan to give millions of unlawful
      immigrants legal status.

      The measure, which also tightens border security and
      workplace enforcement measures, unites a group of
      influential liberals, centrists and conservatives and
      has White House backing, but it has drawn criticism
      from across the political spectrum. In a nod to that
      opposition, Senate leaders won't seek to complete it
      before a hoped-for Memorial Day deadline.

      "It would be to the best interests of the Senate ...
      that we not try to finish this bill this week," said
      Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting
      record), D-Nev., as the chamber began debate on the
      volatile issue. "I think we could, but I'm afraid the
      conclusion wouldn't be anything that anyone wanted."

      The bipartisan compromise cleared its first hurdle
      Monday with a bipartisan Senate vote to begin debate
      on a separate immigration measure. Still, it faces
      significant obstacles as lawmakers seek dozens of
      modifications to its key elements.

      Republicans want to make the bill tougher on the
      nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
      Democrats want to change a new temporary worker
      program and reorder priorities in a merit-based system
      for future immigration that weights employability over
      family ties.

      The unlikely coalition that brokered the deal, led by
      Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Jon Kyl (news,
      bio, voting record), R-Ariz., is plotting to protect
      the agreement from "deal-breaker" changes that would
      sap its support. The group will hold daily meetings
      starting Tuesday to determine whether proposed
      revisions would sink what they are calling their
      "grand bargain."

      "We have to try our very best to work together to get
      something that will actually pass," Kyl said.

      Among the first changes to be debated will be a
      proposal by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (news, bio, voting
      record), D-N.M., to shrink the temporary worker
      program created by the compromise plan. Some lawmakers
      in both parties consider the initiative, which would
      provide at least 400,000 guest worker visas annually,
      too large.

      Others charge it's impractical and unfair to
      immigrants, because it would allow them to stay only
      temporarily in the U.S. without guaranteeing them a
      chance to gain legal status.

      "We must not create a law that guarantees a permanent
      underclass, people who are here to work in low-wage,
      low-skilled jobs but do not have the chance to put
      down roots or benefit from the opportunities of
      American citizenship," Reid said.

      Reid called the measure a "starting point," but said
      he had reservations about it.

      Conservative critics denounced the proposal's quick
      granting of legal status to millions of unlawful
      immigrants.

      Sen. Jeff Sessions (news, bio, voting record), R-Ala.,
      said the measure's so-called "point system" doesn't do
      enough to guarantee that future immigration will serve
      the country's economic needs.

      "I'm nervous about this thing," said Sessions, who
      voted not to go forward with the debate. He called the
      point scheme "bait" to get conservatives to embrace
      the measure, and accused Republicans of compromising
      too much on an outline drafted by the White House in
      late March to attract GOP support.

      "I'm disappointed — almost heartbroken — because we
      made some progress toward getting to this new
      framework, but the political wheeling and dealing and
      compromising and splitting the baby has resulted in a
      circumstance that, you know, we just didn't get far
      enough," Sessions said.

      Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (news, bio, voting record),
      R-Texas, who also opposed opening debate, announced
      she would seek to alter the bill to mandate that
      illegal immigrants go back to their home countries
      before gaining legal status.

      Under the proposal, that requirement only applies to
      heads of households seeking green cards and a path to
      citizenship. Others here unlawfully could obtain visas
      to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely without
      returning home.

      Kennedy, called the plan "strong, realistic and fair."

      "For each of us who crafted it, there are elements
      that we strongly support and elements we believe could
      be improved. No one believes this is a perfect bill,"
      Kennedy said.

      The White House has begun an active lobbying effort to
      drum up support for the measure, especially among
      Republicans who voted against an immigration overhaul
      last year.

      President Bush is still hoping to sign the bill by
      summer's end, said Tony Fratto, a White House
      spokesman.

      "This is a very high priority for the president,"
      Fratto told reporters in Crawford, Texas. "We know
      that this is an emotional issue for members on both
      sides of political parties and both sides of the
      ideological spectrum, but we hope that we can find
      common ground."

      Conservatives in the House, whose opposition helped
      kill an immigration overhaul last year, began laying
      down markers in anticipation of their own debate,
      expected only if the Senate completes its measure.

      Rep. Dan Lungren (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif.,
      unveiled legislation he said was "an alternative to
      several of the large holes in the so-called Senate
      compromise."

      It would send home illegal immigrants who had been in
      the U.S. for fewer than five years and bar them from
      gaining lawful status.

      Those in the country five years or more would be able
      to get a "blue card" to live and work legally in the
      U.S. after paying a $1,000 fine and learning English
      and American civics, but they could not bring their
      families. Blue card holders would have to leave the
      country to apply for legal residency.

      In contrast, the bipartisan Senate compromise would
      allow illegal immigrants in the country by the
      beginning of this year to adjust their status.
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