Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Senate Bill 1033, Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act

Sponsored by Senator McCain and nine co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle (Kennedy, Kerry, Lieberman, Obama, Brownback, Chaffee, Graham, among others), this bill seeks to allow undocumented aliens currently in the country to legalize their status without exiting the country. The bill advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. (Also see HR 3477, blogged here March 26 under the title "Immigration Conflagration" and April 29 as "Immigrant Walkout") See the NY Times article quoted in part below, by clicking here.

But even as hundreds of religious leaders and others rallied on the grounds of the Capitol on Monday, chanting "Let our people stay!," the plan was fiercely attacked by conservative Republicans who called it nothing more than an offer of amnesty for lawbreakers. It remained unclear Monday night whether Senator Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, would allow the bill to go for a vote this week on the floor or would substitute his own bill, which focuses on border security. His aides have said that Mr. Frist, who has said he wants a vote on immigration this week, would be reluctant to move forward with legislation that did not have the backing of a majority of the Republicans on the committee.

Only 4 of the 10 Republicans on the committee supported the bill. They were the committee chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Sam Brownback of Kansas. All eight Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the legislation.

The rift among Republicans on the committee reflects the deep divisions in the party as business groups push to legalize their workers and conservatives battle to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Mr. Specter acknowledged the difficulties ahead, saying, "We are making the best of a difficult situation." But he said he believed that the legislation would ultimately pass the Senate and would encourage the millions of illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows.

Here is a link to Thomas, the Library of Congress database of legislative materials, where you can read a summary of the bill (and the HR 4437 that is harsher towards immigration), see the entire bill and track its progress. I will note that the database does not say that the bill made progress in the Senate Judiciary Committee yet. See the Thomas database link here.

But here is a nice link to Senator Kennedy's website. He has a summary of the main highlights of the bill, noting amendments and who is responsible for them. Of course, it is all rather self-serving, but it is handy. See the link here.

And the Boston Globe, noting massive demonstrations, from the Boston Common to San Francisco, reports:

Panel acts to expand immigrant rights
Vote by committee sets up fight in Senate

By Rick Klein, Globe Staff | March 28, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved a major overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, including a provision allowing undocumented immigrants to earn legal status, and a new temporary worker program in which immigrants would be able to fill US-based jobs for up to six years.

The vote cleared the first major hurdle to the most sweeping changes to American immigration laws in two decades, although significant obstacles remain before any measure becomes law.

Lawmakers who celebrated victory yesterday credited massive public rallies held across the nation in recent days with convincing senators that a comprehensive approach to immigration is in order.

''Americans wanted fairness, and they got it this evening," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, whose proposals formed the basis of the committee's final bill. ''The demonstrations at the grass roots had a powerful impact. This was a nation-shaking event."

Under the measure, the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants would be able to apply for citizenship after six more years of residency if they hold stable jobs, pay back taxes and fines, maintain clean criminal records, and learn English.

In addition, the bill authorizes 400,000 new work visas for foreign nationals who are now living in other countries to work in jobs that employers say Americans don't want. The ''guest worker" program would allow immigrants to work legally in the United States for up to six years, and apply for citizenship in their fourth year.

The vote surprised many observers who expected the Republican-controlled committee to approve a bill that would focus primarily on enforcing the nation's borders. Major legislation is always difficult in an election year, and many across the country want fewer immigrants in the United States, believing that immigrants have been taking jobs from Americans.

Despite yesterday's vote, Senate majority leader Bill Frist warned that he may substitute his bill, which only enforces borders, and ask the full Senate to vote on it instead of the far broader and more lenient measure approved yesterday by the judiciary committee.

In any event, a bruising battle on the Senate floor is expected this week. And even if the Senate approves the committee's bill, any measure that appears to provide ''amnesty" to those who are here illegally faces fierce opposition in the House, which in December passed a bill that would erect a fence along the Mexican border and make it a crime to provide social services to undocumented immigrants.

And while President Bush is a strong supporter of a guest worker program, he has signaled hesitancy to allowing undocumented immigrants to gain legal status.

Still, the judiciary committee's action drew cheers from immigrants' groups and their advocates, who were pessimistic about lawmakers' appetite for boosting the prospects of undocumented immigrants. After the vote, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, called on Frist to respect the committee process and allow a vote on the measure approved yesterday.

If you are doing work on the immigration, do not overlook the excellent reports at the Center for Immigration Studies here.

The photograph is from The Boston Globe, on San Francisco's Market Street protestors wave a Mexican flag and protest signs.

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