News| Immigration Debate | Senate Bill Could Put Undocumented Immigrants Closer to Citizenship

News| Immigration Debate | Senate Bill Could Put Undocumented Immigrants Closer to Citizenship

Published February 11, 2008

Posted May 26, 2006 – After working late into the night Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed an Immigration Reform plan that would clear the way to citizenship for roughly 11 million immigrants.

In a 62-36 vote – passed largely because of a Democratic coalition that supported the measure – the Senate’s immigration reform plan outlines tough guidelines for what millions of immigrants living in the America without proper papers must do to become U.S. citizens. The bill also:

  • Tightens border security by beefing up enforcement and erecting 370 miles of new fences along the American border.
  • Does not change the penalty for immigrants living in America illegally.
  • Establishes the guest-worker program that President Bush sought.
  • Put the estimated 11 million to 12 million immigrants living in the United States without documentation on the path to citizenship that requires an immigrant to learn English, pay back taxes and pass a background check.
  • Toughen penalties for employers who illegally hire undocumented immigrants, raising fines to $20,000 per undocumented worker.

Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Democratic leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, both sided with supporters, a reflection of the bipartisan backing for a bill that was months in the drafting and survived several near-death experiences.

“We took the amnesty out while we put the security in,” Frist said.

The bill "strengthens our security and reflects our humanity," said Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. John McCain's partner in Senate compromise. "It is intended to keep out those who would harm us and welcome those who contribute to our country."

The bill also enjoys “reserved” support of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States but still has strong Republic opposition, which could upend the measure.

"This is amnesty," said David Vitter (R-La.), who tried last week to strip the bill of provisions relating to citizenship.

But the plan is not a done deal.  Efforts to square up the differences between Senate and House versions of the bill could still derail the reforms.

Despite the victory, the Senate’s measure remains in stark contrast to the reform pan the House passed late last year. But House Republicans seem hell-bent on holding on to their provisions. Among those are sections that would:

  • Make it a felony for an immigrant to be in the United States without documentation.
  • Require higher penalties for employers who higher undocumented immigrants.
  • Build a 700-foot-long fence around America’s borders.
  • Not contain a guest-worker provision.
  • Not spell out a path to citizenship for immigrants.

The Senate and House must reconcile their differences before the reform package can be signed into law. However, observers say, the differences run deep and many not be resolved before the end of the fall session, thus effectively killing the legislation.

"We have two very separate and distinct directions that we're going [in] when it comes to controlling our borders, enforcing our laws,”  House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a news conference Thursday. “And I don't underestimate the difficulty in the House and Senate trying to come together in an agreement,"

Written by BET-Staff

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