Senate Republicans will filibuster their own immigration bill today in the face of steadfast refusal by Democrats to allow amendments to the bill that many conservatives view as granting amnesty to illegal aliens.
As an alternative, Majority Leader Bill Frist reached an agreement last night with fellow Republicans on a new comprehensive immigration plan that includes increasing border security and a guest-worker plan, but still does not resolve concerns about amnesty.
The new plan would allow illegal aliens who have been in the United States for more than five years to remain in the country working while applying for U.S. citizenship. Those who have been here between two and five years would have to apply for citizenship at a point of entry, but could remain working. Anyone here for less than two years would have to leave the country, but they could still apply for citizenship from their home country.
Mr. Frist declined to tell The Washington Times last night how he would vote on the alternative measure.
If neither of those bills receives enough votes to move forward, senators will have an opportunity before the end of the week to vote on a border-security-only bill introduced last month by Mr. Frist.
Minority Leader Harry Reid refused yesterday to allow votes on amendments to the bill that Republicans say they will filibuster, including one that would prohibit any illegal alien convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors from obtaining U.S. citizenship.
Mr. Reid and other Democrats say that such an amendment would "gut" the immigration bill and they accused Republicans of being hostile to immigrants for proposing it.
Mr. Reid's tactical maneuvers came as news spread around Capitol Hill of a bill the Nevada Democrat sponsored in 1993 that was aimed at severely curtailing legal immigration and cracked down on illegal immigration.
"Our borders have overflowed with illegal immigrants placing tremendous burdens on our criminal justice system, schools and social programs," Mr. Reid said in a 1993 statement first reported on yesterday on the Drudge Report. "The Immigration and Naturalization Service needs the ability to step up enforcement. Our federal wallet is stretched to the limit by illegal aliens getting welfare, food stamps, medical care and other benefits often without paying any taxes."
Since the time of his proposed legislation, the estimated number of illegal aliens has gone from 3.3 million to more than 11 million.
"Safeguards like welfare and free medical care are in place to boost Americans in need of short-term assistance. These programs were not meant to entice freeloaders and scam artists from around the world," Mr. Reid said at the time. "Even worse, Americans have seen heinous crimes committed by individuals who are here illegally."
Mr. Reid yesterday disavowed that bill and his statements in support of it. And in an unusual, rambling confession on the floor of the Senate yesterday, he said it was the "low point" of his career.
A few days after introducing the bill in August 1993, Mr. Reid said in a near whisper as many senators looked on in amazement, his wife -- the daughter of immigrants -- confronted him after a meeting in Las Vegas and scolded him about his anti-immigrant views. She and other associates of his "pointed out the errors of my way" and ever since, Mr. Reid said, he's favored a more inclusive approach to immigration reform.
His errant ways, he said, "for which I'm so apologetic to my family, mostly lasted about a week or two."
But seven months later, Mr. Reid introduced his bill again, according to Senate records. That bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee in March 1994.
Later that summer, he testified before the Judiciary Committee and advocated cutting legal immigration from 1 million people annually to 325,000.
"A gluttonous admission of new people every year will have a pernicious effect on our infrastructure and our environment," Mr. Reid said, according to Associated Press reports at the time.
"We cannot continue to feed, clothe, house, educate and employ unlimited new populations," States News Service quoted him saying.
Mr. Reid's office said last night that his conversion occurred after the second time he introduced his bill but couldn't give an exact time line.
The whole immigration debate already has spilled over into campaigns for the elections this fall.
Oakland County, Mich., Sheriff Michael Bouchard, the Republican who is challenging Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, yesterday seized on Democrats' opposition to the amendment that would prevent felons from gaining U.S. citizenship.
"This amendment would prevent people who are in our country illegally and then break our laws from becoming citizens," he said yesterday while campaigning in the heavily unionized state that is suspicious of immigration. "Committing a felony like assault and battery or kidnapping are serious crimes and we need leadership in the U.S. Senate that will put our country's safety and security first."