A draft immigration bill allowing employed illegal aliens to remain in the United States indefinitely but requiring them to return home before applying for citizenship was released yesterday to colleagues by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter.
The draft guest-worker legislation, which melds portions of other competing bills, was met warily by other members of the committee who have introduced immigration bills either tougher or more lenient than Mr. Specter’s proposal.
“I look forward to working with Senator Specter to enact the realistic immigration reforms we need so that temporary workers can come here safely and the 11 million illegal workers already here will have a way to earn permanent residence and citizenship,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat whose own immigration bill would permit illegal aliens to apply for citizenship without first leaving the United States.
Sen. John Cornyn, whose bill also would require illegals to return home before applying for citizenship, was equally noncommittal, but praised the Pennsylvania Republican for taking “a serious look” at a “very difficult” issue.
“His proposal and the committee action beginning next week will advance this important debate,” the Texas Republican said. “There are no easy solutions to our broken immigration system, but Congress has an urgent responsibility to implement policies to control the border and address the illegal population already in the United States.”
Mr. Specter said his proposal is merely a starting point and that he anticipates “extensive debate” over it.
“This [proposal], which significantly revises and expands the draft circulated on November 8, 2005, is intended to serve as a framework for building a consensus within the Judiciary Committee on comprehensive immigration reform,” he said in a letter to colleagues.
Mr. Specter’s bill would create a guest-worker program that allows new immigrants to work in the country for up to six years without applying for citizenship. Less clear, however, is what happens to the estimated 11 million to 20 million illegal aliens already here.
His proposal would create a temporary status for illegals who pay their taxes, remain employed and pass background checks. The bill does not cap the amount of time those workers may remain in that status.
Whatever comes of Mr. Specter’s proposal, it is likely to meet stiff opposition in the House, which in January approved a much tougher immigration bill.
“Words almost fail to describe the threat this bill poses to our national and economic security,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican. “By legalizing the millions upon millions of illegal aliens in the U.S., Specter makes a mockery of our laws and crushes our already strained legal immigration system. The American people will not stand by idly as this unmitigated disaster makes its way through the Senate.”
Some also say that Mr. Specter’s bill doesn’t do enough to secure the borders.
“Senator Specter’s bill calls for taking time to study border security measures while granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens who have violated our sovereignty and laws,” said Al Garza, national executive director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. “The priorities set forth in Senator Specter’s bill are backwards — we need to secure the border immediately while studying the effects on illegal immigration should the federal government actually enforce immigration and employment laws.”
Jerry Seper and Stephen Dinan contributed to this article.