- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

The Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the contentious issue of immigration reform today no closer to an agreement on a guest-worker program.

The debate begins in an uncertain election year and in the wake of protests Saturday in Los Angeles, where marchers numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Senate offices say they are handling as many constituent calls as they have for just about any issue — whether they represent states along the border or deep within the nation.

The bill to be considered by the full Senate today will be the one introduced last week by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has long set today as the deadline for taking up the issue. His legislation deals only with securing the border and raising the penalties for being in the U.S. illegally.

Mr. Frist has said, however, that he will include a guest-worker program in his bill if a majority of the 10 Republicans on the committee agree on one. Private negotiations among members and their staffs continued through last week’s recess, but staffers say no consensus has been reached, suggesting that a compromise is highly unlikely.

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said yesterday that he is confident that his committee will produce a bill today. Two weeks ago, he said he hoped some agreement could be reached on a guest-worker program proposed by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, which would allow illegals to apply for citizenship after paying fines and undergoing various background checks.

Provisions of that bill dealing with future immigrants is likely to be approved in the committee today, but the thornier provisions dealing with the almost 11 million illegals already here is far less likely.

Most Republicans on the committee have said they are opposed to the McCain-Kennedy bill, saying that it is an amnesty under another name.

Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who favors a guest-worker program, said Friday that he would vote against any proposal, such as McCain-Kennedy, that doesn’t make illegal aliens return home before applying for U.S. citizenship.

“I will vote against any immigration reform proposal that contains the guest-worker provisions in the McCain-Kennedy bill,” he said. “In my view, their proposal rewards illegal immigrants and will be considered an amnesty by Americans. It will encourage further disrespect for our laws and will undercut our efforts to shore up homeland security.”

Mr. Kennedy said yesterday that his program is not amnesty.

“They pay a penalty,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “They have to pay their taxes. They have to demonstrate they’re working. They have to learn English. And they go to the end of the line.”

Although Mr. Kennedy did not answer a question about whether he would support a filibuster of an immigration bill that didn’t include a guest-worker program, he said that “it’s better that we not pass a bad bill just to pass a bill.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said last week that he would urge a filibuster of any immigration bill — such as the one Mr. Frist will take up today — that bypasses the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Even if the Senate finally does agree on some sort of guest-worker bill, final legislation will have to be worked out with House Republicans who are emphatically opposed to any guest-worker program until the issue of border security is resolved.

“It is an amnesty,” Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” “The crime they have committed is coming into this country without our permission. The penalty that is supposed to be applied to that, under the law that we have today, is deportation. … And what it does is send a horrible message.”

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