Senate OKs Border Fence, Backs Citizenship
Thursday, May 18, 2006; 2:34 AM
WASHINGTON -- The Senate agreed to give millions of illegal immigrants a shot at U.S. citizenship and backed construction of 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the Mexican border Wednesday. Prospects for legislation clearing Congress were clouded by a withering attack against President Bush by a prominent House Republican.
"Regardless of what the president says, what he is proposing is amnesty," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the lawmaker who would lead House negotiators in any attempt to draft a compromise immigration bill later this year.
Bush stood his ground. "The Republican Party needs to lead on the issue of immigration," he told an audience of GOP donors, "...America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society and we don't have to choose between the two."
The blast by Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, came on the day the White House dispatched top presidential aide Karl Rove to ease the concerns of rebellious House Republicans and GOP senators clashed on the Senate floor.
"This is not amnesty, so let's get the terms right," Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska lectured fellow Republicans who condemned the bill. "Come on. Let's stop the nonsense."
"It sort of reminds me of the famous line, `Methinks thou dost protest too much,'" responded Sen. David Vitter, R-La..
Rhetoric aside, the votes on the Senate floor gave fresh momentum to legislation that closely follows Bush's call for a broad bill. The measure includes steps to secure the borders, the citizenship-related provisions for illegal immigrants and a new guest worker program for as many as 200,000 people a year. Senate passage appears likely next week.
The political wheels turned as demonstrators massed within sight of the Capitol demanding greater rights for immigrants, the latest evidence of rising passions in connection with efforts to write the most significant overhaul of immigration law in two decades.
With the administration eager to emphasize its commitment to border security, officials continued to flesh out details of Bush's Monday night announcement that he would send up to 6,000 National Guard troops to states along the Mexican border.
Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, raised the possibility that Guard members could be sent over the objections of a state's governor.
"If a governor truly did not want this mission performed in their state, then the option is there for the president and the secretary of defense to federalize the Guard. And then the mission would be conducted, and then it would be without the control of the governor," he said.
Vitter led the drive to strip from the bill a provision giving an eventual chance at citizenship to illegal immigrants who have been in the country more than two years. His attempt failed, 66-33, at the hands of a bipartisan coalition, and the provision survived. In all, 41 Democrats joined with 24 Republicans and one independent to turn back the proposal. Opponents included the leaders of both parties, Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev. Thirty-one Republicans and two Democrats supported Vitter's amendment.