- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

Senate Republicans killed an immigration bill yesterday that they said would grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and then cast doubt on the fate of a new bill that would grant the same amnesty to a slightly smaller portion of illegals.

“We’ve made huge progress,” Majority Leader Bill Frist said of the new bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida, that would give a direct path to citizenship for workers who have resided illegally in the U.S. for five years or more.

But by nightfall, hopes for a deal had dimmed considerably over Democrats’ refusal to consider Republican amendments.

“I believe there are some people who would rather have no bill,” said Mr. Martinez, whose compromise bill had visibly thrilled Democrats earlier in the day.

“We’re looking like we’re going to be able to dance,” Minority Leader Harry Reid enthused in an impromptu morning press conference with Mr. Frist.

Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican — the co-authors of the bill that Republicans blocked yesterday — pronounced the new compromise a victory and said in a joint statement that they are “proud” to join in support of it.

But as the day wore on, staffers on Capitol Hill and lobbyists interested in the issue read through the 525 pages of legislation. By late last night, leaders on both sides of the aisle told reporters that they were highly doubtful that the Hagel-Martinez legislation would survive a vote scheduled for today.

If the compromise does not garner enough votes to move forward, senators will have an opportunity to give conservatives what they’ve always wanted by voting on a border-security-only bill introduced last month by Mr. Frist. Unlike other Senate proposals, such a bill would meet little resistance from the House, which approved a similar bill last year.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the No. 5 Republican in the Senate, came out against the Hagel-Martinez legislation.

“I think the compromise is wrong because it still allows people to come to our country illegally and know that if they wait long enough, they will be able to get into the citizenship track with very little responsibility,” she said yesterday.

Other conservatives derided the proposal and said it didn’t differ much from the earlier bill, which died yesterday when only 39 senators voted to end debate and bring it to a final vote.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and firm opponent of amnesty, said the new compromise is “essentially the same as the Kennedy-McCain bill that was crushed by a 60-39 vote today.”

The primary conservative concern with both proposals is that they would let illegal aliens remain working in the U.S. while applying for citizenship. They would pay a $2,000 fine, but would not be deported as required by current federal law.

Across the spectrum, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney warned that the proposal would “drive millions of hard-working immigrants further into the shadows of American society, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.”

Union officials also worry about their membership’s having to compete with lower-priced immigrant labor.

The only difference between the Kennedy-McCain bill and the Hagel-Martinez proposal is that the former bill would have granted “amnesty” to all eligible illegal aliens who have been in the U.S. for more than two years. The latter proposal would grant that same “amnesty” only to aliens who have been here five years or more.

Those who have resided here illegally from two to five years, under the Hagel-Martinez proposal, also could apply for citizenship but would have to submit their applications in person at a land U.S. port of entry.

Of the earlier proposal, Mr. Frist said it “goes too far in granting illegal immigrants with what most Americans see as amnesty. I disagree with this approach not just as a matter of principle but because granting amnesty will only encourage future and further disrespect for the law. It will undermine our efforts to secure our homeland.”

Mr. Frist has been an enthusiastic supporter of the new compromise, although he declined several times to say whether he would actually vote for it, and did not explain his apparent change of heart.

The remaining sticking point is that Democrats still don’t want certain Republican amendments considered, including one that would prohibit from obtaining U.S. citizenship illegal aliens who have been convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors or refused a court order to leave the country.

Yesterday morning’s 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 L. Dorgan of North Dakota, Bill Nelson of Florida and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — joined all Republicans in the filibuster.

During a joint press conference with Mr. Frist and Mr. Reid yesterday, a reporter asked whether they had discussed the Hagel-Martinez plan with House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and ardent opponent of anything that smacks of amnesty.”Chairman who?” asked Mr. Reid dismissively. At that, Mr. Frist quickly adjourned the press conference.

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