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Immigration Compromise Faces New Opposition

Conservative opposition from think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, talk-radio hosts and GOP presidential candidates has been echoed by more than a dozen Republicans and nearly half a dozen Democrats. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a pivotal swing vote, said he is determined to reshape the legislation to ensure that a crackdown on the border succeeds before additional job programs are extended to undocumented workers and future immigrants.

One of the first Republican amendments, by Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), would seek to make English the official language of the United States.

An amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) would impose a hefty surcharge on illegal immigrants granted legal status to help states pay for the medical and educational services such immigrants would claim. Another from Cornyn would allow federal law enforcement agents to use information from visa applications to investigate allegations of fraud in the legalization process.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) said she wants any immigration legislation to require illegal immigrants to return to their home country to apply for legal status.

On the other side of the aisle, the biggest threats revolve around a temporary-worker program that would grant two-year work visas, renewable up to three times, as long as foreign workers leave the country between each two-year stint. Labor unions contend that the program would depress U.S. wages and create an underclass of abused foreign workers. Business groups say the structure of the program is unrealistic, since it guarantees instability in the labor supply.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), with the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), will move as soon as today to slash in half the number of temporary work visas, to 200,000 a year. Sens. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will try to strike the program from the bill altogether, and they are likely to pick up support from the Senate's most liberal and most conservative members.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) promised to try to change the bill's provisions on the issuance of permanent residence status. Under the deal, the current green-card system reserves such visas almost exclusively for immigrants with family ties in the United States or an employer sponsor.

The new system would grant applicants points based in part on family ties but also on education, work skills and experience, and English-language proficiency. Leahy and Menendez would preserve the point system but grant more weight to applicants with family members in the United States.

Another provision in the compromise would give the Department of Homeland Security eight years to clear a backlog of 567,000 applicants who have been waiting since before May 2005 for family-unification green cards. Menendez will push to move to grant visas to an additional 800,000 applicants who applied between May 2005 and January 2007.

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