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Thursday, March 16, 2006

U.S. Senate Debates Immigration Legislation

FAIR's Exclusive Eyewitness Account of Today's Committee Action
What follows briefly summarizes the day's events:

Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) expressed worry about the direction of the committee sessions were heading. She made the point that previous guest worker program have not stopped illegal immigration and even may have acted as a magnet. She described an amendment she is drafting for future discussion that would create a limited to agricultural guest worker program.

The elements of the amendment are as follows:

Illegal agricultural workers could get amnesty (a blue card) with a path to citizenship
Eligibility for temporary status would require proof of agriculture work for 100 days per year for 3 years
Eligibility for permanent residence status would require proof of work in agriculture for 100 days per year for 5 years
Proof of employment would be provided by employer
Employers would be required to keep detailed records for 3 years
The program would be capped at 300,000 per year
The program would sunset after 5 years
Blue card holders could bring spouses and children to the United States and they would be given work permits
DHS would set an application fee

Sen. Specter (R-PA) remarked that the McCain-Kennedy amnesty was unfair since it would allow illegal aliens to leap frog ahead of those applying for green cards through legal channels.
Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) responded arguing that Sen. Specter's "gold card" program created a subclass in American society.

Sen. Leahy (D-VT) offered an amendment to ยง 114 of the Chairman's bill, which authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to help Mexico secure it's southern border. Sen. Leahy's amendment, a revision of one discussed last week, authorizes the State Department to withhold funding under this provision to countries engaged in human rights abuses
The amendment was approved by voice vote.

Sen. Durbin (D-IL) again raised an amendment offered last week to delete the provision in the Chairman's bill that criminalizes illegal presence in the U.S. He argued that people should be punished for conduct rather than status.
The amendment was again set aside.

Sen. Durbin (D-IL) again raised an amendment offered last week to exempt humanitarian groups from the alien smuggling provisions in the Specter proposal. Senator Kyl (R-AZ) argued forcefully that there is documented evidence of smugglers using the pretext of humanitarian assistance to bring illegal aliens across the border.
The amendment was set aside.

Sen. Specter (R-PA) made a statement asking the committee to consider what to do with 11-13 million illegal aliens. He expressed worry that if Majority Leader Frist (R-TN) brings his own bill to the floor of the Senate on March 27, chaos would ensue. Senators Kennedy (D-MA), Biden (D-DE) and Specter (R-PA) then discussed at length how the committee needed more time.
Sen. Kyl (R-AZ) made the point in response to this discussion that what the committee should really be considering is a guest worker program where the "guests" actually are required to return after the guest work period instead of being given a path to citizenship.

Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) expressed his concern that we as a nation cannot accept virtually everyone in the world who wants to come to the U.S. He reminded the committee that the public feels that they were fooled by the 1986 amnesty because the government failed to enforce employer sanctions.

Sen. Coburn (R-OK) suggested splitting up the bill into two parts; border security and the rest.

Sen. Durbin (D-IL) said committee members should pressure Majority Leader Frist to give the committee more time on the Specter proposal.

Sen. Sessions (R-AL) stated that an enforcement only bill would build public trust. He suggested that the Senate should pass an enforcement bill and take the summer to examine other issues.

Sen. Sessions (R-AL) offered an amendment to include alien smuggling to the list of crimes covered by the money laundering statute, allowing seizure of smuggling-related assets.
The amendment was approved by voice vote.

Sen. Grassley (R-IA) voiced objections to committee consideration of amendments planned to be offered that address social security-related issues. He insisted that these were matters within the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee he chairs.
This issue remains unresolved.

Sen. Sessions (R-AL) offered an amendment reaffirming the right of state and local authorities to enforce immigration laws. Sen. Specter offered a modification to the amendment to limit the right to enforce to "criminal" immigration laws.
The amendment and the modification were approved by voice vote with the understanding that Sen. Sessions might attempt to restore the original language.

Sen. Sessions (R-AL) offered an amendment relating to information sharing involving multiple agencies including the social security administration. Sen. Grassley objected to consideration of the amendment in the Judiciary Committee instead of the Finance Committee he chairs.
The amendment was set aside.

Sen. Sessions (R-AL) offered an amendment to permit adding information to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. A modification to allow erroneous information to be deleted from the NCIC database was accepted.
The amendment was approved by voice vote.

Sen. Sessions (R-AL) offered an amendment requiring DHS to encourage state and local law enforcement agencies to participate in cooperative immigration law enforcement programs. A modification was offered to reaffirm the voluntary nature of state and local participation and to affirm that enforcement of immigration laws under the program would include all immigration laws, not just alien smuggling laws.
In the absence of enough Senators to approve amendments, the amendment was set aside.

Sen. Sessions (R-AL) offered an amendment to add detention space for holding illegal aliens.
In the absence of enough Senators to approve amendments, the amendment was set aside.

Boy, they're having a hell of a time with guest workers and amnesty.

If no agreement on a bill is reached in committee, Senator Frist has promised to bring his own enforcement only bill to the floor for debate beginning March 27.

Call Senator Frist and Tell Him to Keep His Promise.
Even though the Judiciary Committee will meet again tomorrow to work on the Specter guest worker amnesty proposal, it is highly unlikely the committee will complete mark-up of the bill before the beginning of next week's recess and the start of full Senate debate the following week on Monday, March 27.
In order to prevent any backsliding on his promise to bring up an enforcement only bill on March 27, call Majority Leader Frist and let him know that you are counting on him to keep his promise to bring up enforcement only legislation no later than March 27.
Senator Frist's office contact information is as follows:
DC office 202-224-1911
Leadership Office 202-224-3135
Nashville Office 615-352-9411


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