The immigration bill senators introduced Wednesday bans racial profiling by federal law enforcement officers in most routine encounters, such as traffic stops.
Under current federal law and court precedents, racial discrimination is illegal — but there is no specific ban on racial profiling by federal officers.
But buried inside the 844-page Senate immigration bill is a section specifically prohibiting the use of race or ethnicity as a factor in "routine or spontaneous law enforcement decisions, such as ordinary traffic stops."
Still, that language already represents a compromise. An earlier draft of the bill, reviewed by The Washington Times, had applied specifically to all immigration law enforcement agents at the Homeland Security Department and had banned profiling on country of national origin as well as race and ethnicity.
The head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, the labor union that represents immigration agents and officers, said that would have ended federal immigration law enforcement altogether.
"Everything that you do in immigration enforcement is based on nationality and country of origin. It's the very heart of immigration enforcement," Christopher Crane, the ICE Council president, told The Washington Times.
Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents Border Patrol line agents, said the new language restricting racial profiling won't hurt agents' ability to do their jobs. He said they are already are prohibited from profiling based on race or ethnicity.
The country of origin provision was apparently stripped at the last minute — one of a number of final tweaks designed to blunt criticism of the massive overhaul.
The points system used to determine future immigrants has also been modified from earlier drafts: several contentious sections have been eliminated, the requirements for demonstrating English proficiency have been strengthened and the points awarded for education attainment have been adjusted.
The eight senators who wrote the bill during months of negotiations said they are open to changes and fixes, but said their work represents a serious effort at compromise.
"While I believe this legislation is a strong conservative effort that will accomplish all these things and tries to make the best of the imperfect reality we face, it's not perfect. But I am also confident that an open and transparent process that welcomes public input is going to make it even better," said Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican the GOP is hoping can sell the legislation to conservatives.
He asked for input from all sides of the debate on his Senate office website, Facebook page and Twitter account.
The crux of the deal struck by the four Democrats and four Republicans is a grant of legal status and work rights for most current illegal immigrants, in exchange for a promise that the Homeland Security Department will boost border security and achieve a measurable level of success.
If the border security triggers are met, then those newly legal immigrants will eventually be given a pathway to citizenship.
Mr. Rubio and other conservatives who support the bill say that by tying future citizenship rights to border security, it will take more than a decade for current illegal immigrants to gain citizenship — in some cases, that's longer than if they applied from their home countries.
But opponents say granting immediate legal status still amounts to amnesty, and by letting illegal immigrants remain in the U.S. they get an automatic place in the citizenship line, which does place them ahead of those waiting legally in their home countries.
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