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Alien hiring fine fails on Hill
Senate Democrats quashed a proposal yesterday that would have dramatically increased civil fines on employers who hire illegal aliens.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, offered the amendment to the bill now being debated that would increase the federal minimum wage.
Ridding the economy of illegal aliens, he argued, would do far more to help low-income wage earners than simply raising the minimum wage. Not only do aliens displace U.S. citizens in the work force, he said, they also artificially suppress wages.
"Our whole purpose of the minimum-wage act is to increase the wages of working Americans, particularly low-skilled workers," Mr. Sessions said. "That's a noble goal."
One of the reasons "that those salaries have lagged behind is because of a large influx of illegal immigrant labor," he said. "That is indisputable, and it's not been discussed much here. People apparently don't want to talk about it, but we're going to talk about it."
But Democratic leaders refused to let Mr. Sessions' alien amendment reach the Senate floor yesterday, and they accused him and other Republicans of offering amendments unrelated to the minimum-wage increase in order to stall passage of the bill.
Some 60 amendments have been offered, and today marks the fifth day of debate on raising the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour from $5.15 per hour over two years.
"Amendment here. Amendment there," thundered Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
"Amendment on Social Security. Amendment on immigration. And all the chortling and laughing as they go on about their business," he boomed.
Republicans are "not for those millions of Americans who are heading home tonight, who've worked long and hard, facing their children hoping that at last ... the United States isn't going to fail us," he said. "What do we tell them after five days?"
After accusing Republicans of stalling, Mr. Kennedy then proceeded to read aloud for five minutes a story in the New York Times about soldiers fighting in Iraq.
Mr. Sessions said his amendment is not a delaying tactic and isn't unrelated to the overall minimum-wage bill. His provision, he said, gets at the very reason a minimum-wage increase is needed in the first place. He calls his amendment "comprehensive wage reform," a sly reference to the "comprehensive" approach to immigration reform that Democrats and President Bush are demanding, but most Republicans deride as amnesty.
Mr. Sessions' proposal came directly out of the employer-sanctions section of the immigration-reform bill approved with overwhelming Democratic support last year.
It would raise the minimum fine on employers from $250 per hired alien to $5,000 per alien. And it would raise the maximum fine from $10,000 per alien to $40,000 per alien.
Though Democrats turned back Mr. Sessions' employer-sanctions amendment, they allowed through a second Sessions amendment aimed at federal government contractors who are caught hiring illegal aliens.
He ticked off a half-dozen recent examples of federal contractors using illegal aliens, even in the most sensitive of positions.
"It's astounding how widespread this problem is," Mr. Sessions said. "In one alarming incident, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was caught allowing illegal aliens who obtained documentation by using fake Social Security numbers to work as contract painters at nuclear facilities."
Under the amendment that Democrats allowed last night, any government contractor caught using illegal labor would be prohibited from future government contracts for ten years. It was approved on a 94-0 vote.
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