Immigration Legislation Compromise Announced
Compromise Struck Last Evening; Deal Has Bush Support

By William Branigin and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 6, 2006; 6:38 PM

A bipartisan group of senators today announced a "breakthrough" on controversial immigration legislation, as the Senate cleared the way for a vote on a compromise bill that would create a temporary-worker program and offer legal status to many of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants.

President Bush later expressed support for the deal.

The compromise would give illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years a chance to legalize their status and, eventually, to become U.S. citizens if they pay a fine and meet a series of requirements. Other rules would apply to those who have been in the country less than five years but more than two years. Illegal immigrants who arrived after Jan. 7, 2004, the date of a major Bush speech on immigration reform, would be required to return to their home countries, where they could apply for temporary worker visas.

The compromise proposal, crafted by Republican senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida, was introduced last night and "has moved this issue off the dime," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a co-sponsor of an immigration bill that was cast aside today.

Shortly before he spoke, the Senate voted effectively to kill the immigration bill that he and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) had introduced and that had passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with the support of its chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). The Senate voted 60-39 against invoking cloture on the committee's bill, essentially filibustering it to death by refusing to cut off debate so that it could go to the Senate floor for a vote. The votes of at least 60 senators were needed to invoke cloture.

The Senate's action cleared the way for consideration of a bill submitted by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that includes the Hagel-Martinez compromise.

Frist, Hagel and Martinez joined Specter, McCain, Kennedy and other senators in the bipartisan group that announced plans to go forward with their compromise, which they indicated could come to a vote tomorrow.

President Bush, in North Carolina for a speech on terrorism, applauded the senators' efforts and urged them to pass a bill before leaving on vacation next week.

"I'm pleased that Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate are working together to get a comprehensive immigration bill," said Bush, who has championed a guest worker program as a way of dealing with the issue. "I appreciate their understanding there needs to be a comprehensive immigration bill," he said. "I recognize there are still details to be worked out. I would encourage the members to work hard to get the bill done prior to the upcoming break."

In debate before the cloture vote, Specter said he was "not wildly enthusiastic" about the Hagel-Martinez compromise, but that it was "better than no bill."

Several other Senate Republicans came out in opposition to the bill, although it was unclear whether they could muster the votes to stop it.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) complained during the debate that the bill "still does not have a work site verification provision" to make sure that people are legally eligible for employment.

"Without a work site verification requirement, this bill will not work," Cornyn said. Although a 1986 law provided for employer sanctions as a "quid pro quo" for an amnesty covering nearly 3 million illegal immigrants, the federal government failed to enforce the employment requirements, and now the illegal immigrant population has swelled to 12 million, Cornyn said.

The 1986 amnesty spawned a vast fraudulent-document industry to provide illegal immigrants with the papers that employers were required to request. It also clogged the legal immigration system, as beneficiaries of the amnesty soon filed petitions to bring in millions of their relatives. In addition, the amnesty led to a surge in illegal immigration. Many relatives of the newly legalized did not bother to wait for authorization to join them in the United States, while others not eligible for such permission poured in anyway to take advantage of the legal foothold that the amnesty offered their relatives. As a result, it became fairly common for many extended immigrant families to include a combination of newly naturalized U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents (green-card holders) and illegal immigrants.

According to a fact sheet issued by Frist's office, the compromise includes border security, interior security and employer enforcement provisions from a bill introduced by the majority leader, but temporarily increases the availability of employment-based green cards from 290,000 a year to 450,000 a year. The provision would expire in 10 years.

The compromise also divides illegal immigrants into three categories: long-term, mid-term and short-term. Long-term illegal immigrants -- those who have been in the United States for more than five years, would be allowed to adjust to legal status without leaving the country, provided they met a list of requirements and provided proof of their presence and employment through pay stubs, utility bills or other documents.

They must have worked for at least three of the past five years and paid all federal and state taxes. They must also pass national security and criminal background checks, demonstrate knowledge of English and American civics, pay a $2,000 fine and work for an additional six years after enactment of the law "to ensure that their status is not adjusted before those who are already in line," the fact sheet says.

Mid-term illegal immigrants -- those here for less than five years but more than two years -- would be eligible for a new temporary worker program, but would have to leave the country and return through a "land port of entry," one of 16 designated border crossings such as El Paso, Tex. They would be able "to adjust to legal status over time and would be subject to the annual cap on green cards," according to the fact sheet.

There was no immediate word on what would be done about illegal immigrants from overseas who arrived by plane -- as tourists, for example -- and overstayed their visas.

Short-term illegal immigrants who arrived in the past two years would get "no benefits" and "would be required to return home." Only then could they apply for a temporary worker visa.

Senate Republicans said last night they believed the compromise would garner enough bipartisan support to break through a parliamentary impasse that has stymied progress for two weeks on legislation to tighten border security and deal with the vast illegal immigrant population.

In a surprise move last night, Frist went to the floor with a parliamentary motion to send the compromise to the Senate Judiciary Committee for ratification, then scheduled a vote for Friday to cut off debate on that motion.

A final breakthrough was held back yesterday by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who insisted that any substantive compromise wait until a showdown vote to cut off debate on the more lenient McCain-Kennedy measure passed by the committee last week. Reid and other Democratic leaders hoped to show they had 60 votes in support of that bill, but their effort failed.

If the compromise also fails, the Senate will leave Washington this weekend for a two-week spring recess and nothing to show for a fortnight of heated debate. That would allow organizers of a national protest Monday against a crackdown on illegal immigration to build pressure on lawmakers to support permitting virtually all illegal immigrants, no matter how long they have been in the United States, to stay and work toward citizenship.

There is virtual unanimity in the Senate that the immigration system is broken. Of the several immigration bills that have been drafted, all would beef up the Border Patrol with more agents and higher technology, strengthen rules against employing illegal immigrants and penalties for businesses that violate those rules and create tamper-proof identification cards to replace easily forged Social Security cards and other documents used to get jobs.

But senators have splintered on what to do with immigrants already in this country. One approach, championed by Cornyn and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), would demand that all undocumented workers return home and apply for a new two-year temporary work visa. Such visas could be renewed for a total of six work years, but workers would have to return to their home countries for a year before reapplying.

McCain maintains that approach is unrealistic, arguing that illegal immigrants would ignore the new visas and remain underground.

Other senators, including conservative Republican Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and moderate Democrat Ben Nelson (Neb.), favor the approach taken by the House in December, when it passed a bill that cracked down on illegal immigration without offering any new avenue for lawful employment or citizenship. A handful of Democrats, led by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.), resolutely oppose the provision in the McCain-Kennedy bill that would offer about 400,000 work visas a year to low-skilled foreigners seeking access to a U.S. workplace.

In the middle of the factions is President Bush, who for years has called for major changes in immigration laws, including a guest-worker program, but to many members of Congress has been maddeningly vague about just what he wants.

Yesterday, Bush demanded "a bill that will help us secure our borders, a bill that will cause the people in the interior of this country to recognize and enforce the law, and a bill that will include a guest-worker provision that will enable us to more secure the border, will recognize that there are people here working hard for jobs Americans won't do, and a guest-worker provision that is not amnesty, one that provides for automatic citizenship."