Se­nate im­mi­gra­tion deal forged; will give pro­ba­tion­ary sta­tus to mil­lions

The Washington Times Weekly - - NATIONAL - By Stephen Di­nan

Sen­a­tors and the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion on May 17 reached an im­mi­gra­tion deal that of­fers a mul­ti­step path to cit­i­zen­ship to mil­lions of il­le­gal aliens in ex­change for bet­ter border se­cu­rity and a new way of choos­ing how fu­ture im­mi­grants are se­lected.

The agree­ment, reached be­hind closed doors af­ter months of talks among a small group of Repub­li­cans, Democrats and Bush Cabi­net sec­re­taries, cre­ated lit­tle en­thu­si­asm for the ne­go­tia­tors, but those in­volved said it is the only chance for im­mi­gra­tion re­form to pass this year.

“This is the best I think that can be done with an enor­mous ef­fort on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can and one of the top ne­go­tia­tors.

Whether it is enough to win on the Se­nate floor this week is in doubt. Sup­port seemed to crum­ble even as the deal was an­nounced.

Con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans ar­gued that the bill re­wards il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity, while lib­eral Democrats said it is too dra­co­nian to­ward il­le­gal aliens and too re­stric­tive for fu­ture work­ers.

The plan al­lows the es­ti­mated 12 mil­lion to 20 mil­lion il­le­gal aliens in the United States to come for­ward and re­ceive pro­ba­tion­ary sta­tus. Mean­while, the gov­ern­ment would con­tinue to build fenc­ing and ve­hi­cle bar­ri­ers on the Mex­ico border, hire more im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers and in­sti­tute bet­ter checks on em­ploy­ers.

Once the se­cu­rity im­prove­ments are com­plete, aliens on pro­ba­tion could ap­ply for a pro­posed Z visa, putting them on the path to cit­i­zen­ship. They would have to re­turn home at some point to ap­ply for the in­ter­me­di­ate step of ob­tain­ing a green card.

The­p­lan­would­cre­ateatem­po­rary worker sys­tem. For­eign­ers would be able to work two years be­fore re­turn­ing home for a year, for up to three cy­cles. The plan would cre­ate an im­mi­gra­tion point sys­tem based on ed­u­ca­tion, work skills and English pro­fi­ciency, along­side a re­designed fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion sys­tem.

The deal is a re­ver­sal for Pres­i­dent Bush on sev­eral points: It does not re­quire pay­ment of back taxes, it al­lows fu­ture guest work­ers to bring fam­i­lies in some cases, and it elim­i­nates last year’s re­quire­ment that only il­le­gal aliens with “roots” who have been here for some time have a path to cit­i­zen­ship.

The pres­i­dent called im­mi­gra­tion “a tough is­sue for a lot of Amer­i­cans,” but said he was pleased with the deal.

“The agree­ment reached to­day is one that will help en­force our borders, but equally im­por­tantly, it will treat peo­ple with re­spect,” he said af­ter be­ing briefed by his Cabi­net sec­re­taries. “This is a bill where peo­ple who live here in our coun­try will be treated with­out amnesty, but with­out an­i­mos­ity.”

Mem­bers of his own party said amnesty is ex­actly what the agree­ment de­liv­ers.

“This re­wards peo­ple who broke the law with per­ma­nent le­gal sta­tus, and puts them ahead of mil­lions of law-abid­ing im­mi­grants wait­ing to come to Amer­ica,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Repub­li­can. “I don’t care how you try to spin it, this is amnesty.”

Those con­victed of se­ri­ous crimes would not be el­i­gi­ble for the path to cit­i­zen­ship, though ne­go­tia­tors said they ex­pect most il­le­gal aliens to qual­ify. Fi­nal le­gal­iza­tion wouldn’t take place un­til the se­cu­rity “trig­gers” are met.

Un­der the plan, all work­ers, in­clud­ing U.S. cit­i­zens, will have to be ver­i­fied as le­gal work­ers by their em­ploy­ers. For nonci­t­i­zens, that means us­ing a tam­per-proof ID. For U.S. cit­i­zens, it means a driver’s li­cense, pass­port or other gov­ern­ment-is­sued ID.

“This plan isn’t per­fect, but it is a strong agree­ment and a good so­lu­tion,” said Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy of Mas­sachusetts, the top Demo­cratic ne­go­tia­tor.

All but forgotten is last year’s im­mi­gra­tion bill, which passed the Se­nate by a vote of 62-36 but never re­ceived a vote in the House. That bill split il­le­gal aliens into groups based on their time in the United States, with those here the long­est guar­an­teed a path to cit­i­zen­ship and those here less than two years be­ing forced to go home.

Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, left his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign trail to re­turn for the an­nounce­ment, join­ing six other Repub­li­cans, Mr. Kennedy, two other Democrats and the two Cabi­net sec­re­taries for a press con­fer­ence.

Repub­li­can vot­ers have crit­i­cized Mr. McCain for what they see as his sup­port of amnesty, and the sen­a­tor pressed for fast ac­tion to try to limit the po­lit­i­cal dam­age.

“We all know this is­sue can be caught up in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar pol­i­tics un­less we move for­ward as quickly as pos­si­ble,” he said.

Mr. DeMint and other Repub­li­cans are push­ing to draw out the de­bate in hopes that vot­ers will be­come dis­en­chanted with it. They said the bill was writ­ten be­hind closed doors by a hand-picked group of sen­a­tors, rather than go­ing through the usual com­mit­tee process.

“It’s dis­ap­point­ing and even ironic how the deal an­nounced to­day skirts the demo­cratic pro­cesses of Congress,” said Sen. Charles E. Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can.

He com­plained that the floor de­bate starts May 21, even though a cost es­ti­mate hadn’t been an­nounced and a fi­nal text not re­leased as of the af­ter­noon of May 17.

Even those who were part of what they called the “grand bar­gain” were con­fused.

At one point dur­ing the an­nounce­ment, Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Repub­li­can, said he hoped the agri­cul­ture work­ers pro­posal known as “Ag-Jobs” would be in­cluded — draw­ing a cho­rus of “it’s in” from his col­leagues.

Con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from the an­nounce­ment were Sen. Robert Me­nen­dez, New Jer­sey Demo­crat and a strong pro­po­nent of im­mi­grant rights, and Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Repub­li­can, who split with Sen. Jon Kyl, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, af­ter years of work­ing on a bill with him.

Mr. Cornyn called the an­nounce­ment “pre­ma­ture” be­cause it was made with­out spe­cific text of the bill.

“This is clearly a case where the broad prin­ci­ples peo­ple have talked about are good, at least in some re­spects, but then we have to get to the ac­tual lan­guage,” he said.

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