- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Senate Republicans reached a compromise yesterday to take up immigration reform legislation again next week that would give illegal aliens who have been in the United States more than two years a path to citizenship.

“There’s a conceptual agreement,” Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, said yesterday after a group of party members on all sides of the immigration debate met in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid also said yesterday that the Nevada Democrat is “confident” that an agreement will be reached to bring the legislation to the floor for debate next week.

Despite yesterday’s agreements, high hurdles remain before the Senate approves the comprehensive legislation. And once approved in the Senate, any such legislation will meet certain and steadfast opposition in the House, where Republicans last year approved an immigration bill that dealt only with tightening the borders and enforcing federal immigration laws already on the books.

The Senate proposal — a compromise bill that Mr. Martinez and Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, brokered — would toughen border security, but it also would give illegal aliens a direct path to citizenship if they have been in the United States for five years or more. Those who have lived here illegally for two to five years also could apply for U.S. citizenship, but only after submitting their applications in person at a land U.S. port of entry.

Modeled after a proposal by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, the legislation is derided by many conservatives for granting what they call “amnesty.” Supporters say it’s not amnesty because illegal aliens would pay $2,000 in fines before they could become citizens.

Under the agreement that Republicans reached yesterday, the entire Republican caucus will stand united in demanding that 20 Republican amendments and 10 Democratic amendments be considered. That will allow those Republicans opposed to “amnesty” a full opportunity to offer alternative approaches. Republican leaders say they are confident that any such amendments to severely alter the bill would fail.

In return, those Republicans opposed to “amnesty” agreed that they would not try any parliamentary procedures — such as a filibuster — to kill any legislation that has clear majority support.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Mr. Reid, said the two leaders continue to work on an agreement across the aisle and urged President Bush — who last month praised the Martinez-Hagel proposal — to get more involved.

“The only way we’re going to get this done is if the president steps up to the plate and quells the opposition in the right wing of his party,” Mr. Manley said.

But Republican staffers say that if Mr. Reid and Mr. Frist don’t reach a deal by tomorrow, the Tennessee Republican will try to force the Senate to debate the Martinez-Hagel bill.

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