April 5, 2006

Senators urged to break immigration logjam

By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush urged
senators on Wednesday to break a stalemate over an immigration
law overhaul and pass legislation that includes a temporary
worker program but avoids amnesty for an estimated 11 million
illegal migrants.

"This is a vital debate," Bush said after a White House
meeting with Republican congressional leaders. "I thank the
members who are working hard to get a bill done. I strongly
urge them to come to a conclusion as quickly as possible and
pass a comprehensive bill."

Bush said the bill must include a guest-worker program,
saying it was not amnesty but will "enable us to more secure
the border, will recognize that there are people here working
hard for jobs Americans won't do." But he said it must not
include an amnesty that provides automatic citizenship to guest

In an often heated election-year debate, the Senate is
considering a comprehensive bipartisan immigration overhaul
passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would
tighten security at the border, toughen enforcement against
employers who hire illegal immigrants, create a guest worker
program and provide a way for some of the estimated 11 million
illegal immigrants to become citizens.

The bill is supported by most Senate Democrats, but deeply
divides the Republican majority. Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist of Tennessee said talks were under way for a compromise
that would bring more Republican support.

"We are still working hard to get that breakthrough and to
get the bill done," Frist told reporters.

Talks are focusing on splitting illegal immigrants into
groups so that those who have been living and working in the
country the longest have an easier path to U.S. citizenship
than those who have been in the country less than five years.

It is unclear whether Republicans will be successful and
Democrats have moved to force a procedural vote on the
Judiciary Committee bill on Thursday.

Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, who is a member of the
Democratic leadership, said more than 20 Republicans would have
to support the bill, along with a solid majority of Democrats
in order to get the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to
move the legislation forward.

Democrats said they are open to compromise, but want the
basic elements of the bill to remain intact.

"We are interested in expanding the degree of support, but
not going to compromise on the fundamental principles," said
Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a principal author of the
legislation being debated in the Senate.

Any Senate bill would have to be worked out with a tough
border security and enforcement bill passed by the House of
Representatives last December. That bill has sparked nationwide
protests by Hispanic groups and their supporters. It defines
illegal presence in the country as a felony, instead of a civil
offense, and calls for the construction of a fence along the
U.S. border with Mexico.

Durbin said the goal is to go into negotiations with the
House with a strong bipartisan Senate bill.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican,
reiterated that he was open to a guest worker program. "We
ought to consider that," he said.