GOP Seeks More Immigration Enforcement
Saturday, June 23, 2007; 4:40 AM
WASHINGTON -- New requirements to track down, deport and permanently bar people who overstay their visas would be added to a broad immigration bill under a GOP bid to attract more Republican support.
The amendment, which also would prevent illegal immigrants from gaining lawful status until they pass a background check, is one of those the Senate will consider next week when it returns its attention to the immigration measure. The bill is likely to see a final vote by month's end.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., an architect of a broader deal to legalize as many as 12 million unlawful immigrants, said Friday that the amendment "will help substantially" in persuading his Republican colleagues to support the compromise.
The legislation has sparked outrage among conservatives who contend it gives amnesty to lawbreakers, and has been met with deep suspicion by Republicans who say their constituents have no faith that laws cracking down on illegal immigrants will be enforced.
Kyl said the outcry in the country is such "that senators appreciate the fact that we've got to show that we're serious now."
To assuage the concerns, Democrats and Republicans already have added $4.4 billion in mandatory spending to the bill to be used for border enforcement efforts and weeding out illegal workers from U.S. workplaces.
Still, the enforcement amendment is necessary "to illustrate to people that we're really serious about making this bill as good as it can possibly be," Kyl said.
Senate leaders plan to revive the stalled immigration measure on Tuesday, with a test-vote and consideration of a limited list of amendments designed to win enough converts to carry it to passage by the end of the week.
They're facing an uphill battle, though, given that many GOP waverers targeted as potential supporters are saying they won't back resurrecting the measure.
Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison and Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson have all said they would oppose the effort, despite the fact that proposals by Hutchison, Chambliss and Isakson all won coveted slots on a list of two dozen amendments that would be considered before the bill is completed.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. _ whose amendment to help family members of citizens and legal permanent residents qualify for green cards is also slated for a vote _ accused leaders of rigging next week's debate to give the advantage to Republicans bent on weighing down the bill with punitive measures.
"The process is tilted far to the right, far to the right and it has provided little to no chance for those of us trying to bring the bill closer to where it was last year _ which is to the middle _ that opportunity," Menendez said.
His proposal would award more points to relatives of citizens and permanent legal residents in a new merit-based system for allocating green cards. It would strip a condition that such family credit only counts if an applicant has substantial other qualifications, such as education, skill-level and English proficiency.
The bill would end the practice of granting relatives of citizens and permanent legal residents permanent residency based solely on family ties.
"All our amendment says is, 'Hey, what has been a bedrock principle of immigration law for well over four decades should not be totally abandoned, and that family, in our society, does have a value,'" Menendez said.
Kyl called Menendez's amendment "a nonstarter" that would have a "pernicious effect on the work-visa merit system."
Many of the proposals up for debate next week would pose major problems for the bill if approved. Republican amendments to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to gain legal status or permanent residency would likely alienate enough Democrats to put the bill in jeopardy. Democratic attempts to boost family based immigration similarly could peel off Republican support for the measure.
The Bush administration is vigorously fighting a bipartisan amendment by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., to replace the employee verification system with one that would require fewer workers to be checked for legal status.