- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Two key senators yesterday introduced an immigration bill that would give illegal aliens five years of temporary legal status before making them return to their home country, from where they could apply for a new guest-worker program open to any foreigner who qualifies.

The measure has a leg up on the other proposals because it was written by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, and Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and a member of the Republican Senate leadership.

As the guest-worker debate heats up in Congress, the new bill’s sponsors said their version stands out by combining strong enforcement with the worker program.

“The key here is enforcement of the law and a law that can be enforced,” Mr. Kyl said, while Mr. Cornyn called it “a work-and-return program, not a work-and-stay program,” and said it closely tracks the principles that President Bush laid out in a speech 18 months ago.

On the enforcement side, it would boost border-enforcement efforts as well as add 10,000 agents to conduct work site checks and go after companies that hire illegal aliens.

On the immigration side, the bill creates a guest-worker program, open to anyone overseas, to fill jobs for which employers say they cannot find American workers.

Workers could come for two years, then must return home for a year. They could apply for three total work periods. Current illegal aliens would have to leave the U.S. within five years, but could then apply for the temporary-worker plan from their home countries.

The Cornyn-Kyl bill joins a proposal by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, as the leading options in the Senate. The McCain-Kennedy bill increases immigration by 400,000 workers a year and offers illegal aliens a chance to pay a fine and be put on a multistep path to citizenship.

All sides agree that momentum for reforming immigration is growing in Congress, but it’s not clear whether the enforcement side or the legalization side has the upper hand.

Mr. Cornyn and Mr. Kyl said the McCain-Kennedy bill can’t win the confidence of voters because it lacks strong enforcement provisions. Mr. Cornyn also dismissed a bill announced Monday by Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, which has enforcement provisions but does not specifically address illegal aliens’ status.

“I suspect Congressman Tancredo is really not serious about his guest-worker bill if he says we’ve got to have 100 percent enforcement of current law, and deportation, I suppose, of 10 million people,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Mr. Bush has not endorsed a specific plan.

Still, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean accused Mr. Bush of not standing up “to the anti-immigrant forces in his own party.”

“The president’s absolute lack of leadership on the issue has caused an atmosphere of hostility and fear that’s keeping us from real and comprehensive immigration reform. His own party doesn’t know where he stands,” Mr. Dean told the National Council of La Raza yesterday.

The Kyl-Cornyn plan does appear to retreat on the two senators’ earlier promise to delay the start of a guest-worker plan until the government first met certain enforcement benchmarks.

In May, the two senators said the government must first earn the trust of the American people on enforcement. In a summary of the provisions released at the time, the senators said increases in both the U.S. Border Patrol and detention beds must “be fully funded before any new temporary worker program.”

Yesterday Mr. Kyl said that summary was incorrect.

“I don’t recall that. I’m sorry if that impression was created,” he said.

Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, said Mr. Cornyn has correctly diagnosed the problem but his solution “is mostly sticks with few carrots.” She and the American Immigration Lawyers Association said they prefer the McCain-Kennedy bill.

The bill was more cautiously received by the other side of the debate. The Federation for American Immigration Reform said it had many good elements, but the history of such proposals is sobering.

“When it comes to immigration policy, the promises made to the immigrants invariably get kept, but the commitment to the American public to protect our borders, security, and jobs too often fall by the wayside,” said Dan Stein, federation president.

Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who wrote the 1996 immigration bill, said the bill is not an amnesty. But he said the broad nature of the worker program is bad news for American workers’ wages.

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