Members of the House minority caucuses say they have serious misgivings about the Senate immigration bill and the debate surrounding it, saying that many of the important issues of trade and agricultural policy are being overlooked.
"At the end of the day, we have to have a trade policy that lets [Central and South American] goods in and one that's fair to American workers and Mexican small farmers and doesn't undermine them," said Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat.
"People have to understand that once we start dumping corn and wheat and everything else into Mexico and we wipe out their small farmers, guess where those small farmers are coming? To a town near you."
He said Americans in the same situation would do the same. Echoing sentiments from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, he said he has a problem with hardworking people, who came to the U.S. looking to build a better life, being treated as criminals.
Mr. Ellison supports employer sanctions for hiring illegal aliens, and biometric green cards and work visas, but says, "I don't think building a fence or a wall does anything to solve the problem."
At issue for many in the black caucus is putting more money into job-training programs for Americans and removing the race aspect from the debate.
Feeling pressure from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, House Democrats say that any notion of moving the immigration policy away from family reunification to a point system favoring educated, highly skilled workers is a deal breaker.
"I look forward to legislative action in the House that ensures that our borders are secure, that our laws are enforced, that promotes family values with family unification," said Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, and chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration.
There are a host of other issues that could easily stall or serve to kill the bill before it passes the House or even the Senate and that is before real partisan political battles begin and months before the two chambers sit down and try to reconcile what is sure to be two very different bills.
Rep. Diane Watson, California Democrat, said that despite President Bush's support and his promises to help Democrats get the bill passed, she doesn't see it happening in this Congress. "I don't think we can deal with all the issues in one major bill, and I suggested that we separate them, making them two bills maybe even three," she said.
And she said some parts of the Senate bill are simply unrealistic.
"They are asking that people coming into the country come in speaking English, skilled, educated and fluent -- well, that is going to be a real hurdle for people who come from very poor, underdeveloped countries," she said referring to the point-based entry-preference system some in the Senate favor.
Rep. Artur Davis, Alabama Democrat, called the point system "questionable" and said that, coupled with the "imprecise" guest-worker program, which requires immigrants to return home for a year after working in the country two years, the Senate plan creates a permanent "low-wage base" or with no hope of becoming citizens.
The immigration bill introduced during the last Congress "was a lot smarter, because it didn't treat all the 12 million undocumented equally," Mr. Davis said.
"What it said is that those who've been here the longest get treated one way and those who haven't been here very long be treated a different way and that was easier to explain to people. It was more salient politically, and you could avoid the amnesty argument."