Democrats May Write Own Immigration Bill

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 3, 2007; 7:08 PM

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic leaders, increasingly unhappy with an immigration overhaul taking shape in bipartisan talks with the White House, are considering moving their own, more permissive bill.

The move would essentially pull the rug out from under a delicate round of talks between Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., top Bush administration officials and senior Republicans, who have been negotiating for weeks to strike a deal on the contentious and politically sensitive issue.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has set May 14 as a target date for the immigration debate, said Thursday he plans to bring up a measure drafted last year _ backed by most Democrats but only a few Republicans _ if the talks don't yield a bipartisan deal.

The move would set the stage for a heated and unpredictable partisan fight over immigration.

"He's willing to give the negotiations more time, but one way or the other, he wants to get a bill to the floor by the 14th," said Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman.

Senior Democrats are worried that the talks are producing a much tougher bill than the majority of their party can support, according to top officials.

"There are serious concerns about the workability and the fairness of the White House plan," said one top Democratic official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks are private. "So far, the White House's efforts to help have only succeeded in making it more difficult to get a bill."

Bush and most Democrats advocate allowing some of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship, and the creation of a guest-worker program for new arrivals.

The Senate passed a measure last year that would have accomplished both, over the objections of most Republicans, but it died in the House. It was the victim of vehement opposition among House conservatives, who said the bill granted amnesty to lawbreakers.

Now some of the same GOP conservatives who opposed the bill, including Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, have teamed with the White House to write a new proposal that more Republicans could support, and Kennedy has been bargaining with them to find a deal Democrats could accept.

The draft under discussion would require those seeking legalization to pay higher fines and wait longer, and limit immigrants' ability to bring relatives to the United States.

Democratic negotiators, including Kennedy, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., have signaled they are open to other provisions that they considered unacceptable last year. Those include making undocumented immigrants leave the country before having a chance at gaining legal status, and requiring tougher border security and enforcement measures before any legalization or guest-worker program could begin.

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