- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

Senators and lobbyists are putting the final touches on a comprehensive immigration-reform bill that includes an easier citizenship path for illegal aliens and weaker enforcement provisions than were in the highly criticized legislation that the Senate approved last year.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who ardently supports citizenship rights for illegals, will introduce the bill as early as next week, according to Senate sources knowledgeable about the negotiations. If the Senate Judiciary Committee can make quick work of the bill, it could be ready for floor action in April.

Mr. Kennedy drafted this year’s bill with help from Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and outside lobbyists. Mr. McCain and the outside groups share Mr. Kennedy’s support for increased immigration and leniency for illegals already in the country.

Among the most active participants have been the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Both groups support giving current illegals a path to citizenship and increasing the flow of foreign workers into the country.

“It’s good for the country,” EWIC immigration lawyer Laura Reiff said of Mr. Kennedy’s bill.

In particular, EWIC and the chamber have taken a leading role in drafting the section of the bill dealing with work-site enforcement, Senate staffers say. Lobbyists in both organizations have shuttled around Capitol Hill drafts of those provisions, which are supposed to impose sanctions on businesses that hire illegal aliens, according to internal e-mails obtained by The Washington Times.

“That’s putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” one Senate lawyer said about the pro-business chamber’s involvement in drafting the punishment of employers.

One of those e-mails obtained by The Times invited Democratic immigration staffers to a briefing in early January with “key stakeholders” to discuss workplace-enforcement provisions. The invitation listed six such “stakeholders,” including the chamber and EWIC. The other groups attending the meeting, according to the e-mail, were the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Council of La Raza and the Service Employees International Union.

Not included in that meeting or any of the early meetings, according to several Senate aides, were key Republican senators or their staff who crossed the aisle last year to support “comprehensive” immigration reform that most Republicans considered a form of amnesty.

“We have been held out of any discussions,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, one of those who supported last year’s major immigration bill. “Our staffs have asked to be involved, but they were kept out.”

Even Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who as chairman of the Judiciary Committee last year ushered the immigration bill through the Senate, has been left out of the process of drafting the bill.

Mr. Specter said yesterday that he and Mr. Kennedy have discussed the need to get a bill done this year but not any details. Mr. Specter has twice complained to Mr. Kennedy, most recently at a meeting last week, that the Republican senator’s staff had been left out of negotiations.

“I raised the issue again, and a Kennedy staffer said there was nothing in writing” as legislation, he said. “Neither my staff nor I have seen any draft.”

Last week, aides and Republicans said, Mr. Specter, Mr. Brownback and others were invited to a meeting where they got their first briefing on the nearly completed bill. Other Republicans invited included Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida.

Laura Capps, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy, said he has been working with “many senators and members of Congress to draft the new bill.”

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