- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

The Senate will vote tomorrow on the first major changes in immigration policy in a decade, including a measure legalizing up to 1 million illegal-immigrant agriculture workers and dramatically changing two of the nation’s temporary-worker programs.

The votes will come as part of the debate on the Senate’s $80.6 billion spending bill to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — and are proving to be contentious.

The biggest showdown is over Sen. Larry E. Craig’s “Ag-Jobs” amendment, which would legalize illegal-immigrant agriculture workers and their families. Mr. Craig, Idaho Republican, calls it “rehabilitation” for the workers and their families, but opponents like Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, calls it “amnesty, I think, under any definition of it.”

Also pending is a vote on Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski’s amendment to raise the cap on temporary seasonal H-2B visas for foreign workers and Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ alternative to Mr. Craig’s bill, which would allow illegal agriculture workers to remain temporarily under a new program, but not give them a path to citizenship.

All three amendments will be subject to a 60-vote threshold for passage, as will a subsequent vote to limit debate on the underlying spending bill.

Some senators object to any of these votes happening on the war-spending bill. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, tried to head off the debate, arguing that the amendments are piecemeal.

Complicating this week’s debate is that the House, in its version of the emergency-spending bill, included immigration-security provisions to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to obtain and use driver’s licenses, place new limits on asylum claims and move to complete a section of border fence near San Diego.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, has offered a nonbinding amendment calling for the Senate to oppose the House provisions when the eventual conference committee meets.

But Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, is sponsoring another amendment that would attach the House provisions to the Senate bill.

Mr. Isakson has not offered his amendment officially, but says he’ll make his decision after seeing how tomorrow’s votes go.

On the three amendments facing votes tomorrow, Mr. Craig’s “Ag-Jobs” measure is getting the most attention.

He said American agriculture is imperiled by relying on a work force that is up to 70 percent illegal, and said the time has come to stabilize those workers.

“It is time-sensitive to the industry,” he said.

Mrs. Mikulski’s amendment to expand the cap on H-2B visas technically is outside of the immigration debate because those work visas are for seasonal workers who are required to return home. But the immigration debate has become entwined with economics and questions about whether foreign workers are taking jobs Americans could or would fill.

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