May 11, 2006

Senate leaders clear path for immigration bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican and Democratic Senate
leaders agreed on Thursday on a plan to revive a bill that
would give millions of illegal immigrants a chance to earn U.S.

The sweeping immigration overhaul, which has triggered
rallies by millions of immigrants and their supporters across
the country, is expected to be considered by the Senate next

Despite the agreement between Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist and Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the outcome
of the legislation remains in doubt. It faces opposition from
some Republicans who say it gives amnesty to people who broke
U.S. laws.

Frist said opponents now will be allowed to offer "a
considerable number of amendments" to the bill. In return,
Democrats won an assurance that the bill's backers will have a
input in eventual negotiations with the U.S. House of

The House passed a tough border security bill that would
further criminalize illegal presence in the United States and
the two bills will have to be merged.

The House bill, which would make illegal presence a felony
instead of a civil offense, has drawn huge protests around the
country from Hispanic groups and their supporters.

Frist said he wants the Senate to finish work on the bill
by the end of the month when Congress takes a week-long break
for the Memorial Day holiday.

The legislation stalled just before Congress' Easter break
last month when Democrats, worried that Republican opponents
would try to gut the bill, blocked consideration of amendments
and sought to limit their number. Even though some of those
amendments now will go forward, backers feel they have the
votes to defeat them.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been
pushing for the bipartisan immigration overhaul, said he was
optimistic the Senate would pass the bill, which also includes
a guest worker program backed by President George W. Bush.

"Today's agreement is a major step forward in our fight for
tough but fair immigration reform," Kennedy said.

The Senate bill includes border security and enforcement
measures, but also addresses the estimated 11 million to 12
million illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Millions would be given a chance to earn citizenship. The bill
also includes a temporary worker program backed by President
George W. Bush.