Thursday, March 9, 2006

First day of Senate deliberations on immigration uneventful

Despite all the heated rhetoric about immigration reform coming out of Washington, it appears that the Senate Judiciary Committee is in no hurry to begin any serious work on the issue. Perhaps it's just committee chairman Arlen Specter's bill in particular that is of no particular interest to the Senators. Trying to be all things to all people, Specters hodgepodge proposal appears to be neither fish nor foul, leaving the Senators apparently unimpressed.

Containing some of the harsher aspects of the controversial House bill (HR4437), coupled with a call for a path to legalization for the 11mil unauthorized immigrants in America as set forth in Senators Kennedy and McCain's bill (S. 1033), and a guest worker plan that mirrors the one favored by President Bush, Specter's immigration bill provides no real compromise between the various camps in the immigration debate. He appears to want to give each faction a piece of the pie, yet the bill ends up to be nothing more than a mix of contradictory policies.

(more below the fold)

WASHINGTON - During the first full day of deliberations Wednesday on an immigration bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee decided it wants to help local governments train officers and seems to prefer to study a border fence than build one now.

But it got little else done and committee chairman Arlen Specter is not happy. He is presiding over his panel's deliberations - called a markup - on a 305-page immigration bill that does everything from strengthening enforcement to creating a new guest worker program and allowing the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country now to work legally.

No more than eight of the 18 members on the Senate panel were ever in the meeting room at one time Wednesday. Under the committee rules, it takes eight members to vote on amendments and 10 to actually vote on the total bill. And at least two members from each party have to be there.

For much of the time, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was the lone Democrat although Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., came and went as did a few others.

Specter, R-Pa., repeatedly asked the staff of the absent senators to summon them and said if this continues he will start asking those not showing up if they "really" want to be a member of the usually coveted panel.

Feinstein urged Specter to go slow, even if it means the committee won't meet Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's deadline of March 27 to get immigration reform on the floor.

"I want to know the bill," Feinstein said. "I want to take some time with this bill."

"We will take whatever time we need," Specter assured her.

During the brief time that there were eight members present, the panel agreed on an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the immigration subcommittee, that would pay the training and equipment costs for local and state police agencies that volunteer to help enforce immigration laws.

There was some give and take, however, over whether to build a fence all along the southern border or instead study whether and where such a barrier makes sense.

"I do not support a fence for practical and financial reasons as well as because of the signal it sends to our neighbors in the north and south," said Cornyn, R-Texas.

But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who supports the construction of an extensive border fence, said it would save money in the long run because fewer people would be caught at the border. And that means fewer people needing to be detained and sent back to their home country, he said.

Sessions was the only lawmaker present arguing in favor of a border fence. The panel is expected to vote to proceed with the study in Specter's bill and to suggest some limited fencing in selected crossings in Arizona, an amendment proposed by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Mercury News

Perhaps the committee may be able to hammer something out of Specter's cacophony of a bill … if they ever bother to show up.

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