A Senate Democrat yesterday introduced a proposal to expand the pool of illegal aliens eligible for citizenship to include anyone who sneaked across the border before Jan. 1.
Under the amendment filed yesterday afternoon by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, all illegals who can prove they arrived before the start of this year would be issued an “orange card,” which would provide a path to U.S. citizenship.
“This amendment would streamline the process for earned legalization,” Mrs. Feinstein said, referring to the process by which an estimated 10 million to 12 million illegals could become citizens. “It would create a more workable and practical program and dedicate the necessary dollars to cover its costs of administration.”
Under the bill being debated in the Senate, illegal aliens who came into the country within the past two years would still be subject to deportation. Illegals who had been here two years or longer could apply for citizenship.
“This means approximately 4.8 million people would be required to leave voluntarily or be deported,” Mrs. Feinstein said yesterday in reference to the Senate bill. “I don’t believe many of these people would go home. Even President Bush acknowledged that such a large-scale deportation program is unworkable when he said, ‘It is neither wise, nor realistic to round up millions of people … and send them across the border.’”
Mrs. Feinstein’s amendment would require illegal aliens to immediately register with the Department of Homeland Security and submit fingerprints for criminal and national-security background checks. Once they passed the background checks, they could apply for an orange card.
In order to get an orange card, the alien would have to provide evidence they were already in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2006. As under the current bill, aliens would have to learn English, pay back taxes and $2,000 in fines.
Several of Mrs. Feinstein’s colleagues were hesitant to comment on her proposal last night, saying they had not had time to study it. It was not clear last night whether or when the amendment would receive a floor vote.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican who adamantly opposes granting amnesty to illegal aliens, said he did not think it would change his opposition to the larger bill as it is currently drafted.
“Sounds to me like it has the same infirmities that the current bill does,” he said yesterday.
The National Council of La Raza, which supports granting citizenship to illegals, endorsed the Feinstein plan.
“One of the most basic principles of real comprehensive immigration reform is reasonable solutions that will bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and into the sunlight so that they will be able to work and live free from constant fear of deportation,” the group said in a letter yesterday to supporters.
Last night in the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist filed a “cloture motion” to ensure a final vote on the immigration reform legislation before the end of this week.
The Senate yesterday also rejected a proposal by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, aimed at removing an incentive for farmers to hire illegal aliens. The amendment would have equalized the wages paid to immigrants working on farms.
Currently, migrant workers who are in the U.S. legally under the H-2A program are paid more than illegal aliens in the same areas. If farmers are required to pay both equally, Mr. Chambliss argued, then farmers would be less inclined to hire illegals.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said the bill would have amounted to a pay cut for all agricultural workers.
“Those who have flaunted the rule of law by refusing to utilize the temporary-worker program for agriculture — the H-2A program — have gained a tremendous economic advantage over their counterparts who have adhered to the laws on the books today,” Mr. Chambliss said after the Senate voted 50-43 to reject his amendment. “We know from past experience that once farmworkers are legalized through an amnesty, they leave farm work.”