Se­nate keeps guest-worker pro­gram af­ter amend­ment fails

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

The Se­nate on May 24 ap­proved a path to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gal aliens, beat­ing back an at­tempt to re­move it from the “grand bar­gain” im­mi­gra­tion bill.

“This is amnesty, pure and sim­ple,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Repub­li­can who tried to strip out the le­gal­iza­tion pro­vi­sions, say­ing it would re­peat the mis­take of the 1986 amnesty.

But his amend­ment failed 6629. Twenty-five Repub­li­cans voted for a path to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gals, while 20 voted against it, and 41 Democrats voted for le­gal­iza­tion while nine voted against it. The cham­ber’s two Demo­crat-lean­ing in­de­pen­dents also voted for le­gal­iza­tion.

If the amend­ment had passed, it would have cut out the heart of the grand bar­gain, reached last week by a hand­ful of Democrats and Repub­li­cans and the White House. Un­der that deal, the Repub­li­cans agreed to le­gal­ize il­le­gal aliens in ex­change for Democrats’ al­low­ing a new guest-worker pro­gram and changes that fa­vor fu­ture im­mi­grants with needed skills and ed­u­ca­tion.

Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, said this new path to cit­i­zen­ship isn’t amnesty be­cause it re­quires il­le­gals to wait, pay fines and demon­strate a work his­tory.

“Le­gal­iza­tion is im­por­tant for our na­tional se­cu­rity. We have to know who is in the United States of Amer­ica. Le­gal­iza­tion is im­por­tant in terms of our eco­nomic pros­per­ity,” he said.

Hours ear­lier, the bi­par­ti­san group de­fend­ing the im­mi­gra­tion deal es­caped a closer call, de­feat­ing a Demo­cratic amend­ment to end the guest-worker pro­gram af­ter five years.

They avoided that only af­ter Mr. Kennedy talked Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Demo­crat, into switch­ing his vote, and the amend­ment failed 49-48.

Af­ter­ward, the bill’s back­ers were con­vinced that they have a clear path to pass­ing when the Se­nate re­turns from a week­long Me­mo­rial Day vacation.

“We see es­sen­tially no enor­mous road­blocks or no poi­son pills or no killer amend­ments ahead that we can’t deal with,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can.

It was the third key vote so far on the guest-worker pro­gram, which was the ma­jor bat­tle­ground for the bill.

Op­po­nents man­aged on May 23 to cut the num­ber of new work­ers per year to 200,000, but the bill’s sup­port­ers have kept the pro­gram in­tact, in­clud­ing in yes­ter­day’s 49-48 vote. In that vote, 38 Repub­li­cans, 10 Democrats and one in­de­pen­dent voted against the sun­set and 38 Democrats, nine Repub­li­cans and one in­de­pen­dent voted to end the pro­gram af­ter five years.

The two votes on May 24, stacked side by side, show that the threat to the Se­nate com­pro­mise comes far more from suc­cess­ful amend­ments from the left than from the right. More po­ten­tial road­blocks in­clude up­com­ing votes on Demo­crat-spon­sored amend­ments that ex­pand the def­i­ni­tion of fam­i­lies el­i­gi­ble for re­uni­fi­ca­tion and try to elim­i­nate some of the steps that il­le­gal aliens must take be­fore gain­ing a green card.

Still, the May 24 le­gal­iza­tion vote is likely to have the most im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal im­pact among Repub­li­cans, who are deeply di­vided over le­gal­iz­ing il­le­gal aliens.

It also marked a re­ver­sal for a num­ber of Repub­li­cans who had pre­vi­ously op­posed a path to cit­i­zen­ship, such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. Join­ing him was fel­low Texas Repub­li­can Sen. Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son, who hours ear­lier had told re­porters that she thought it was amnesty if the aliens could gain le­gal sta­tus with­out leav­ing the coun­try.

Ge­or­gia’s two Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, Saxby Cham­b­liss and Johnny Isak­son, are also likely to feel heat from vot­ers back home for their sup­port of a path to cit­i­zen­ship, as is Sen. Richard M. Burr, North Carolina Repub­li­can, who split with the state’s se­nior Repub­li­can sen­a­tor, El­iz­a­beth Dole.

Repub­li­can leader Sen. Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky voted to strip the le­gal­iza­tion, but the No. 2 Repub­li­can, Whip Trent Lott of Mis­sis­sippi, voted for the path to cit­i­zen­ship.

The path to cit­i­zen­ship has sev­eral steps. As soon as the bill is signed into law, il­le­gal aliens could come for­ward and ob­tain pro­ba­tion­ary sta­tus, which would al­low them to stay and work in the coun­try. Once a cer­tain num­ber of U.S. Border Pa­trol agents are hired, fenc­ing is built and an em­ployee-ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem is op­er­at­ing, the aliens could then ap­ply for a Z visa, and eight years later, could ap­ply for a green card — the step im­me­di­ately be­fore cit­i­zen­ship. Along the way, they would have to main­tain a work his­tory and pay pro­cess­ing costs.

A new cost es­ti­mate of the bill found that it will cost the fed­eral gov­ern­ment $31 bil­lion to $48 bil­lion over the next 10 years. But the le­gal­iza­tion and new work­ers would give So­cial Se­cu­rity a boost, at least in the short term, adding $69 bil­lion to $85 bil­lion to the fund, ac­cord­ing to a new anal­y­sis by the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice.

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, Alabama Repub­li­can, has in­tro­duced an amend­ment to lower the cost by lim­it­ing who is el­i­gi­ble for the Earned In­come Tax Credit. A vote on that was put off un­til sen­a­tors re­turn from vacation.

By a voice vote, the Se­nate agreed to make il­le­gal aliens pay back taxes — some­thing Mr. Bush had once pro­posed but did not in­sist on in the grand bar­gain.

Also on May 24, a sur­vey of 84 “con­gres­sional in­sid­ers” by the Na­tional Jour­nal found that three­fourths of Repub­li­cans in the House and Se­nate said they can­not sup­port the Se­nate bill be­cause it is “not tough enough.” In ad­di­tion, 17 per­cent said it was “the best that can be achieved.”

Among Democrats, 45 per­cent said it was the best deal, 14 per­cent said it was too re­stric­tive and 17 per­cent said it was not tough enough. The sur­vey polled 42 Repub­li­cans and 42 Democrats.

Al­li­son Shelley / The Wash­ing­ton Times

A bi­par­ti­san group of law­mak­ers — in­clud­ing (from left) Sens. Dianne Fe­in­stein, Lind­sey Gra­ham and Mel Martinez — is try­ing to shep­herd the White House-backed grand bar­gain on im­mi­gra­tion through the Se­nate.

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