- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Senate Judiciary Committee last night approved a plan that would put millions of illegal aliens on a path to U.S. citizenship, would let them stay here while applying and would not punish their unlawful entry as a felony, contrary to a House-passed bill.

“A path to earned citizenship is what this bill is all about,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said after joining all Democrats and three other Republicans on the panel to approve the plan, which many consider an “amnesty.”

The sudden approval — after weeks of negotiations that often had appeared fruitless — likely will lead to a showdown with the House, which last year approved an immigration bill that only tightened border security.

“If the bottom line is that all people that came here illegally have got to be made citizens, then we should have the vote now,” Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican who fought the proposal, said in the seven-hour committee meeting yesterday.

“That’s amnesty, and that won’t work. And the House won’t even go to conference with something like that,” he said.

The plan approved by the committee — taken from a bill written by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat — would fine current illegal aliens $2,000 each. The bill also would require aliens to undergo criminal background checks and mandate that they maintain employment over the six years they wait to get in line for full citizenship, a process which takes several more years.

“All Americans wanted fairness, and they got it this evening,” Mr. Kennedy said after the vote last night.

Many House Republicans — and most U.S. voters — oppose any new immigration legislation until the borders are secured and existing immigration laws are enforced. The vast differences between the House bill and the Senate Judiciary Committee proposal must be worked out before any legislation can go to President Bush for his signature.

It was still not clear last night whether the bill would even make it to the floor of the Senate, which yesterday began debating legislation offered by Majority Leader Bill Frist that bypasses the Judiciary Committee and deals only with border security.

“A nation that can’t secure its borders can’t secure its destiny or administer its laws,” said Mr. Frist, who introduced his bill yesterday. “And the situation along our southern border now ranks as a national security challenge second only to the war on terror.”

Mr. Frist’s “Securing America’s Borders Act” would hire more border-patrol officers, build limited fencing in high-traffic areas and toughen the penalties for being in the U.S. illegally. The bill does not, however, have the guest-worker provisions included in the committee bill.

The Tennessee Republican — is widely expected to seek his party’s nomination for president — has made clear to the Judiciary Committee that he would not consider adopting any guest-worker or “amnesty” provisions that didn’t garner a majority of the Republican vote in committee.

The panel proposal failed to get that majority, but Mr. Frist said yesterday that he hasn’t decided whether he will consider the committee’s bill. He was in negotiations last night with committee Chairman Arlen Specter and other panel members.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has implored Mr. Frist to take whatever the committee approves and has threatened filibusters if the Republican leader bypassed the committee with his security-only bill.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, protects Americans and addresses the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living here today,” Mr. Reid said yesterday. “I congratulate Chairman Specter, Ranking Member [Patrick J.] Leahy and the Judiciary Committee for reporting out a bipartisan bill today that does just that. I hope Senator Frist will immediately substitute this comprehensive approach for his wrongheaded bill as the full Senate begins debate tomorrow.”

In addition to Mr. Specter and Mr. Graham, Republican Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Sam Brownback of Kansas supported the committee proposal.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who faces a tough primary fight this year, missed yesterday’s vote.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican who has led the fight against illegal immigration, said the committee’s proposal “provides nearly universal amnesty” for the more than 11 million illegal aliens in the U.S. and adds hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to a background-check system that is “already on the brink of collapse.”

“If the Senate follows the Judiciary Committee’s lead, the prospects of getting a reform bill to the president’s desk this year are slim, to say the least,” he said.

“No plan with amnesty and a massive increase in foreign workers will pass the House. Amnesty and foreign workers are fundamentally incompatible with the House’s approach and, according to every recent poll, they are not what Americans want. Americans want enforcement first, and disagreement over foreign workers should not prevent us from securing our borders,” he said.

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