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Slow Progress on Immigration Reform

As the contentious debate in the Senate over the Immigration Bill gets underway, amendments to the bill and compromise proposals are starting to emerge. Here are the highlights from earlier today:

  • Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who wants to cut the temporary worker program in half to 200,000 per year;
  • Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who wants to make English the official language of the United States and prevent entry if an immigrant can't pass the current English proficiency test;
  • Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who propose killing the guest worker program;
  • Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who wants to allow federal law enforcement to use information from immigrant visa applications in investigations;
  • Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who want to give more weight to families for earning green cards; and
  • Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who plans to speak against the bill for a few hours Tuesday morning with votes on amendments expected in the afternoon.

Amnesty has turned in to the hot button issue. Republican sponsors respond:

Conservatives call this "amnesty," but supporters like Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a lead negotiator, denies that charge.

"It's not amnesty. Amnesty is getting something for nothing. These workers have to pay a $5,000 fine. That's a pretty substantial amount for many of them," he said. Liberal critics say that the "touchback" provision, or home-country return, is not practical and would cause undo hardship on low-wage immigrants.

Fiscal conservatives are waving a red flag over entitlements:

Conservatives also point out that the illegals, once legal, would automatically be eligible for Social Security and Medicare and would not be required to pay any back taxes, something bill supporters say is simply impossible to calculate.

Conservative Heritage Foundation President Robert Rector estimates the total cost of the bill to be in the trillions of dollars, warning, "This $2.5 trillion cost is going to come smashing into the Social Security and Medicare systems at exactly the point those systems are already going bankrupt. So the bottom line is that these individuals will make no net contribution in taxes while they are working. They will be a deficit. But when they hit retirement, they will be an astonishing cost on the taxpayer."

And the temporary worker program has U.S. trade unions concerned. Senators Boxer (D-CA) and Dorgan (D-N.D.) are addressing those concerns:

Unions also oppose the temporary worker program, which Dorgan and Boxer hope to rectify by stripping the program from the bill. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said he will support this amendment because he is "fundamentally opposed to this unworkable system" whereby temporary workers can enter the U.S. without family for three two-year stints, with one year of residency outside of the U.S. in between those stints.

Immigrants coming with nuclear families get one two-year stay only and can return for an additional two years without their families.

It is unclear if the Dorgan amendment can muster the 60 votes needed for passage, but what does seem certain is that the worker program will at least be cut in half very early on with an amendment that overwhelmingly passed last year, cutting the number of work visas in half, from 400,000 per year to 200,000 per year.

- More

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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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