- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

Online exclusive: updated 2:04 p.m.

Senate Republicans this morning filibustered the immigration bill that conservatives said would grant amnesty to the more than 11 million illegal aliens living in the United States.

The 39-60 vote fell 21 “ayes” shy of the 60 needed to end debate so that final debate and a vote could be held. Five Democrats Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Bill Nelson of Florida and Benjamin E. Nelson of Nebraska joined all Republicans in the filibuster.

The Senate immediately turned its attention to an alternative compromise proposal by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida. They hatched a comprehensive immigration plan late last night that includes increased border security and a guest-worker plan but sidesteps concerns about amnesty.

The new plan would allow illegal aliens who have been in the United States for more than five years to remain in the country working while applying for U.S. citizenship. Those who have been here between two and five years would have to apply for citizenship at a point of entry, but could remain working. Anyone here for less than two years would have to leave the country, but they still could apply for citizenship from their home countries.

Mr. Frist — considered a top contender for the Republican nomination for president — declined to say how he would vote on the alternative measure, which could reach the floor as early as tonight. However, he said this morning that the proposal was “a major step forward.” He called it a “fair approach, a balanced approach” and said it respects the rule of law.

Minority Leader Harry Reid, talking to reporters with Mr. Frist at his side, said the proposal “is not perfect, but a big step in the right direction. We’re looking like we may be able to dance this afternoon.” However, even if Democrats and Republicans in the Senate reach an agreement on the compromise, it still would need to be approved by House Republicans, who are expected to reject it outright. Asked by reporters if Senate leaders had discussed the plan with House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner — an ardent opponent of anything that smacks of amnesty — Mr. Reid said dismissively: “Chairman who?” At that, Mr. Frist quickly adjourned the press conference with Mr. Reid.

If the compromise bill does not garner enough votes to move forward, senators will have an opportunity before the end of the week to vote on a border-security-only bill introduced last month by Mr. Frist.

This morning’s filibuster move by Republicans came in the face of steadfast refusal by Democrats to allow amendments to the bill that many opposed as amnesty. Among the amendments they refused to allow was one that would prohibit any illegal alien convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors from obtaining U.S. citizenship.

Mr. Reid and other Democrats say that such an amendment would “gut” the immigration bill, and they accused Republicans of being hostile to immigrants for proposing it.

Mr. Reid’s tactical maneuvers came as news spread around Capitol Hill of a bill the Nevada Democrat sponsored in 1993 that was aimed at severely curtailing legal immigration and cracked down on illegal immigration.

“Our borders have overflowed with illegal immigrants placing tremendous burdens on our criminal justice system, schools and social programs,” Mr. Reid said in a 1993 statement first reported yesterday on the Drudge Report. “The Immigration and Naturalization Service needs the ability to step up enforcement. Our federal wallet is stretched to the limit by illegal aliens getting welfare, food stamps, medical care and other benefits often without paying any taxes.” Since the time of his proposed legislation, the estimated number of illegal aliens has gone from 3.3 million to more than 11 million.

“Safeguards like welfare and free medical care are in place to boost Americans in need of short-term assistance. These programs were not meant to entice freeloaders and scam artists from around the world,” Mr. Reid said at the time. “Even worse, Americans have seen heinous crimes committed by individuals who are here illegally.” Mr. Reid yesterday disavowed that bill and his statements in support of it. In an unusual, rambling confession on the floor of the Senate yesterday, he also said it was the “low point” of his career.

A few days after introducing the bill in August 1993, Mr. Reid said in a near whisper as many senators looked on in amazement that his wife, the daughter of immigrants, confronted him after a meeting in Las Vegas and scolded him about his anti-immigrant views. She and other associates of his “pointed out the errors of my way” and ever since, Mr. Reid said, he has favored a more inclusive approach to immigration reform.

His errant ways, he said, “for which I’m so apologetic to my family, mostly lasted about a week or two.” Yet seven months later, Mr. Reid introduced his bill again, according to Senate records. That bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee in March 1994.

Later that summer, he testified before the Judiciary Committee and advocated cutting legal immigration from 1 million persons annually to 325,000.

“A gluttonous admission of new people every year will have a pernicious effect on our infrastructure and our environment,” Mr. Reid said, according to Associated Press reports at the time.

“We cannot continue to feed, clothe, house, educate and employ unlimited new populations,” States News Service quoted him saying.

Mr. Reid’s office said last night that his conversion occurred after the second time he introduced his bill but couldn’t give an exact timeline.

The whole immigration debate already has spilled over into campaigns for the elections this fall.

Oakland County, Mich., Sheriff Michael Bouchard, the Republican who is challenging Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, yesterday seized on Democrats’ opposition to the amendment that would prevent felons from gaining U.S. citizenship.

“This amendment would prevent people who are in our country illegally and then break our laws from becoming citizens,” he said yesterday while campaigning in the heavily unionized state, which is suspicious of immigration. “Committing a felony like assault and battery or kidnapping are serious crimes, and we need leadership in the U.S. Senate that will put our country’s safety and security first.”

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