- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

The House’s lead negotiator on immigration yesterday called the Senate legislation passed last week “amnesty” for illegal aliens that his chamber will not accept, setting up a showdown between the House and the Senate, which have passed widely differing bills.

The Senate bill mirrors the House version in its provisions to tighten border security, but includes a “guest-worker” program proposed by President Bush and offers illegals in the United States what proponents call a “path to citizenship.”

“The words ‘path to citizenship’ is a buzzword for amnesty. We ought to be honest, it is amnesty,” said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“What the Senate [has done is] throw up their hands, say, ‘Give them amnesty’ … and allow them to stay. That’s not fair because it gives a reward to a lawbreaker, but it also is unfair to people who are standing in queue to become legal immigrants.”

Asked whether he would accept a compromise bill that allows a path to citizenship, Mr. Sensenbrenner responded with a flat “no.”

“Amnesty is wrong, and we should not pass it,” he said.

He supports the bill passed by the House, which is mostly limited to border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal aliens.

“What we have to do is first secure the border, and then we have to turn off the magnet that brings more illegal immigrants into our country. Once we do that, and we know it’s effective, then we can figure out what to do with the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants that are already here,” he said.

The congressman said the Senate bill, unlike the House version, does not require employers to verify documents provided by illegal aliens, “so they can just keep their jobs forever.”

“If we have a workable and effective employer-sanctions program, then I think a lot of the illegal immigrants would simply go back home, because they would no longer be able to work in this country,” he said.

But Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, said the Senate bill provides a comprehensive approach to dealing with illegal immigration, and he rejected Mr. Sensenbrenner’s conclusion on the bipartisan bill, which passed with nearly two-thirds support.

“Amnesty. That’s nonsense,” Mr. Hagel said.

He said the Senate bill is tough because it would require all immigrant workers to have a tamperproof identification card and would not be able to find employment without it. Focusing immigration legislation purely on border enforcement ignores the broader problem, he said.

“To just walk away from it and say, ‘Well, we’re going to enforce our borders first and then maybe we’ll get to the rest of it,’ we fail the American public,” Mr. Hagel said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is mulling a presidential run in 2008, said he could accept a phased-in compromise: enforcement first, then reconsidering a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship.

“I personally would, because I think, first and foremost, you’ve got to lock down the borders. You can’t allow this hemorrhaging of millions of people,” the Tennessee Republican said.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate minority whip, said he agreed that border enforcement has to be the first priority and that employers must be reminded they will be held accountable if they hire illegal workers, a law passed in 1986 but sporadically enforced.

“And then, finally, we have to deal with the people who are here living in the shadows. It’s not amnesty. It’s not automatic,” Mr. Durbin said. “As Senator Frist explained, it’s a long, tough process that many of them will not complete successfully, but at least gives them a chance.”

Under the Senate bill, illegal aliens who have been in the country five years or more can continue working and eventually become legal permanent residents and citizens after paying at least $3,250 in fines and fees and back taxes and learning English.

The illegal aliens in the U.S. from two to five years would be required to go to a point of entry at the border and file an application to return. Those in the country less than two years would be required to leave.

Both chambers have provisions that increase the fine for employers who hire illegal aliens. The Senate bill would increase maximum fines to $20,000 for each illegal worker, while the House bill would increase the maximum fine to $40,000 per violation.

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