Senate chooses right approach for immigration reform
A Senate committee has approved a bill that would provide a way for illegal immigrants to gain legal residency and eventual citizenship.
IMMIGRATION reform that would legalize the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants and provide incentives for them to seek citizenship appears headed for bipartisan Senate approval. The bill is superior to the approach taken by President Bush, which contains no incentives, or a punitive measure approved by the House.
The comprehensive bill was endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, with four of the panel's 10 Republicans joining all eight Democrats in support. Unless Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist erects a barrier, the bill should gain approval by the entire Senate. Bush's support is needed for any hope of a worthwhile compromise with the House.
The Senate bill would allow undocumented workers to apply for three-year visas that could be renewed for another three years to begin their road to citizenship. They would have to pass criminal background checks, pay $1,000 fines and be unemployed for no more than 60 days in order to gain residency after the six years.
The workers then would be required to be proficient in English and civics, pay back taxes and be fined an additional $1,000 or face deportation. They would have to stand in line for their green cards behind immigrants who entered the United States legally.
The president has proposed a "guest worker" program that would allow undocumented workers to pay fines and stay in the country for a period of time, probably three years, and then be deported. Instead, they undoubtedly would return to the shadows, just as the 4 million Mexican workers did under the failed Bracero Program of 1942-64.
The House bill is focused on increasing law enforcement. It would turn all illegal aliens into felons and create nearly 700 miles of border fences in California and Arizona costing $3.2 billion. The bill passed the House, 239 to 182, with Rep. Neil Abercrombie voting against it and Rep. Ed Case among 36 Democrats voting yes.
Both the Senate and House measures include a badly needed provision creating an electronic system that employers would be required to use in checking Social Security or workers identification numbers. A pilot program initiated in 1997 is now used by 5,000 employers, but it is voluntary. Under the legislation, employers would face stiff civil and criminals penalties for neglecting to check the database.
President Bush has said he wants "a comprehensive bill that secures the border, improves interior enforcement and creates a temporary-worker program to strengthen our security and our economy." He is opposed to granting amnesty. The Senate bill fills those needs, and the requirements upon the workers fall far short of being regarded as amnesty.