The Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon passed an immigration reform bill that will now move on to the floor for further debate tomorrow morning.
The bill, which incorporates most of the provisions of the bill originally sponsored by Sen.Kennedy(D-Ma) and Sen. McCain(R-AZ) calls for the most massive reform of the immigration system in twenty years. It contains the comprehensive measures to allow for a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the US. It also has provisions for a guest worker program and a plan to allow for 1.5 million agricultural workers and their families to work legally. Additionally an amendment was added to the bill that guaranteed that humanitarian aid workers and others providing services to immigrants would not be subjected to criminal penalties.
Senate Panel Approves Immigration Bill
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved sweeping election-year legislation Monday that clears the way for 11 million illegal aliens to seek U.S. citizenship, a victory for demonstrators who had spilled into the streets by the hundreds of thousands demanding better treatment for immigrants.
With a bipartisan coalition in control, the committee also voted down proposed criminal penalties on immigrants found to be in the country illegally. It approved a new temporary program allowing entry for 1.5 million workers seeking jobs in the agriculture industry.
"All Americans wanted fairness and they got it this evening," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who played a pivotal role in drafting the legislation.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said he hoped President Bush would participate in efforts to fashion consensus legislation. "The only thing that's off the table is inaction," said Graham, who voted for the committee bill.
The 12-6 vote broke down along unusual lines, with a majority of the panel's Republicans opposed to the measure even though their party controls the Senate.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., seeking re-election this fall in his border state, sought repeatedly to insert tougher provisions into the legislation, but was generally rebuffed. "This has been a very, very important and historic debate," he said.
Committee chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania was one of four Republicans to support the bill, but he signaled strongly that some of the more controversial provisions could well be changed when the measure reaches the Senate floor. That is "very frequently" the case when efforts to reach a broad bipartisan compromise falter, he noted.
Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. had originally said debate on the issue would begin Tuesday, but an aide said those plans had changed.
In general, the bill is designed to strengthen enforcement of U.S. borders, regulate the flow into the country of so-called guest workers and determine the legal future of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.
The bill would double the Border Patrol and authorizes a "virtual wall" of unmanned vehicles, cameras and censors to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border.
It also allows more visas for nurses and agriculture workers, and shelters humanitarian organizations from prosecution if they provide non-emergency assistance to illegal residents.
The most controversial provision would permit illegal aliens currently in the country to apply for citizenship without first having to return home.
"Well over 60 percent of Americans in all the polls I see think it's OK to have temporary workers, but you do not have to make them citizens," said Kyl, who is seeking re-election this fall.
"We have a fundamental difference between the way you look at them and the way I look at them," Kennedy observed later.
tags: immigration, Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, Specter bill, Senate Judiciary