Employment clashes with enforcement in Senate
Under the measure passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, guest workers could stay six years, then could renew for six more years but would have to leave the country first ” though briefly ” to do so.
They could apply for permanent residency if they have an immediate relative who is a resident, are self-employed, for humanitarian reasons, are students who grew up in the U.S., or have been an immigrant in the U.S. more than 10 years who can show hardship.
The Senate committee’s version includes elements of various bills, including a guest worker program and a path to legalization for the nation’s undocumented immigrants proposed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)
On the enforcement side, the legislation calls for doubling the Border Patrol in five years and adding surveillance measures at the U.S.-Mexico line.
In addition, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has introduced a bill that would strengthen border security, crack down on those who employ illegal immigrants and increase the number of visas for workers.
“Whenever they get close to doing something,” Frist said, “it gets put on the backburner because there’s an election coming. Either nothing will happen or most likely an enforcement-only type of bill that includes sanctions to employers who hire illegal workers.
“I think the guest worker legislation is too volatile in an election year,” he added. “Anything is possible, but I’m not holding high hopes for a guest workers visa.”
Whatever passes the Senate must be merged with the House bill, which had neither a guest-worker provision nor a path to citizenship. The House would then vote on that merged bill.
Though the Republican Party is split on the issue, President Bush has advocated a guest-worker program.
While Colorado’s Democratic seantor, Ken Salazar, has said he supports a guest-worker program as well as the enforcement provisions passed Monday. “He’s still studying the (committee’s) bill and moving forward from there,” said Cody Wertz, communication director for Salazar.
Though the bill he co-sponsored is different than the one passed Monday, Wertz said Salazar is hoping the Senate will enact a comprehensive immigration reform law that protects the borders and addresses human and economic realities in the United States.
The state’s Republican senator, Wayne Allard, has said leans more towards an enforcement-bill only. Though he believes that the U.S. immigration system is in need of reform, Allard wants to make a clear distinction between illegal and legal immigration, a spokeswoman said.
“He has been saying for several months that he won’t support any bill that rewards people who break the law,” said Angela de Rocha, communication director for Allard. “The first remedy is the enforcement system and then a way to deal fairly with those who are here illegally.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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