CHN: Senate Addresses Immigration While Thousands Demonstrate In Support of Immigrants

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a draft immigration reform bill on March 27 that largely follows the McCain-Kennedy bill (S. 1033) creating a guest worker program and a path to legal permanent residence for undocumented immigrants. The committee approved the bill by 12-6 with the votes of all the committee’s Democrats and four Republicans: Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Mike DeWine (R-OH).
The bill is likely to expose rifts among Republicans in the Senate, some of whom may support Majority Leader Bill Frist’s immigration bill focusing solely on border enforcement (S. 2454) and with Republicans in the House, who approved a bill that is similar to Frist’s in December (H.R. 4437). The House bill would make being in the U.S. illegally a felony (traditionally it has been a civil matter) and would impose more stringent enforcement rules on business while also funding more unmanned aerial vehicles and large walls as ways of securing the border. The House bill would also make it a crime to assist undocumented immigrants, which apparently would apply to health care providers, paid staff (and possibly volunteers) in a food bank, and even religious leaders.

President Bush supports a guest worker program that would grant currently undocumented immigrants a way to stay and work in the U.S. legally on a temporary basis, while others support a clearer path towards citizenship. Many conservatives in Congress, particularly Jon Kyl (R-AZ), generally feel that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to stay in the U.S. except in narrow circumstances. Kyl has introduced an alternative bill (S. 1438).

Meanwhile, immigrant communities and supporters of immigrants’ rights took part in demonstrations across the country for days before and after the Judiciary Committee approved its draft. A rally in front of the U.S. Capitol Monday was matched by other larger ones in Denver, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago and a demonstration of at least half a million in Los Angeles.

During its markup of the bill, the Judiciary Committee approved amendments that made it more closely match the principles of the McCain-Kennedy bill. One by Kennedy would allow 400,000 visas for people to enter the country each year who could be eligible for a green card after four years. Five years later they would be eligible for citizenship.

Another amendment, by Lindsey Graham, allows undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. to become citizens after eleven years. They would first be allowed to stay as guest workers for six years and then could apply for a green card for legal permanent residence after paying back taxes and a $1,000 fine, undergoing a background check and meeting other requirements.

Richard Durban (D-IL) offered two amendments that were approved. One removed criminal penalties for being in the U.S. illegally. Another removed the criminal penalties for organizations assisting undocumented immigrants.

Frist submitted his bill to the floor of the Senate and is allowing Specter to offer the Judiciary Committee’s bill as a substitute. The Senate may approve legislation by the end of next week, before the April recess.