July 25, 2006

Lawmakers offer immigration alternative

By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Republican U.S. lawmakers on
Tuesday offered a compromise immigration plan they said would
ensure border security and allow some of the estimated 12
million illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States
without granting amnesty.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence
said they hoped their plan would jump start stalled
negotiations between the Senate and House of Representatives.
The two chambers have passed vastly different immigration bills
and it is increasingly unlikely the two sides will bridge
differences ahead of the November congressional elections.

"We believe that this Congress must come together and find
a way forward, and we hope this idea can be that way forward,"
Pence said at a news conference with Hutchison.

The plan calls for implementing border-security measures
before a guest-worker program backed by President Bush is put
into place. Once the borders are determined to be secure, a
temporary-worker program and an employment-verification program
would go into effect.

The U.S. government would license private employment
services to match workers with employers. They would operate
out of Canada, Mexico and Central American countries that are
part of trade pacts with the United States.

Illegal immigrants from those countries seeking to legalize
their status would have to travel home to get a two-year visa,
which could be renewed for a total of 12 years. After that
time, those seeking to continue in the United States could
apply for a visa that would allow them to say for another five
years before they could apply for permanent status.

Pence said it was a plan that conservatives could embrace
because it gave no amnesty to illegal immigrants. Many House
Republicans oppose the bipartisan Senate bill, calling it an
amnesty, because it combines border security and workplace
enforcement measures with a program giving millions of illegal
immigrants a chance to earn U.S. citizenship.

The House passed a tough enforcement and border-security
bill that would criminalize illegal presence in the United
States. The idea of securing the borders first as part of a
comprehensive package has been gaining some ground among

Reaction to the Hutchison and Pence plan was muted. Senate
Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said he welcomed the
proposal and that he would discuss it with the sponsors.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who helped
broker the Senate bill, said he disagreed with the plan but
admired Pence's "willingness to break with some in his party
who would rather just play politics with immigration."

(additional reporting by Richard Cowan)