Legislative Update: April 5, 2006, Immigration

Immigration Bill Status

I. House Bill HR 4437, Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) crafted and introduced, passed in December. The big difference between the House bill and what is being proposed in the Senate is the guest worker program. The House bill focuses only on border security and enforcement. It also has much tougher provisions including strong penalties for non-documented immigrants and those who aid them. The House bill would make it a felony; punishable by up to a year and one day in prison, to be in the United States illegally and a new provision with new penalties for those caught aiding non-documented immigrants which could include doctors, clergy and humanitarian workers. Sensenbrenner has said that he will not go to conference on a bill that includes a guest worker program. However, Rep. Hastert has noted that the House could possibly support a guest worker program.

II. There are currently four bills affecting the Immigration Activity in the Senate.

1) Bill passed by the Judiciary Committee, which had an amendment to include the DREAM ACT.

2) Sen. Frist (R-Tenn.) (S. 2454) – Border Security Bill – Offered as an amendment to Judiciary Bill, said he will not support Judiciary Committee Bill

3) McCain-Kennedy Bill (S. 1033) – a number of provisions of their bill incorporated into the Spector/Judiciary Bill, the most controversial being a plan to allow undocumented residents to stay in the country and earn citizenship.

4) Cornyn-Kyl (S. 1438) – Provision that would require illegal immigrants to return home before being allowed to participate in a temporary work program for a limited time (work and return)

The Senate continues debate on the Judiciary Committee bill passed out of committee and Majority Leader Sen. Frist (R-Tenn.) is now working to try and get movement with a proposal from Sen. Martinez (R-Fla.) and Sen. Hagel (R-Neb.). Their proposal would alter the bill that was passed out of Judiciary Committee. The committee version would create a guest worker program for newcomers and provide a way for illegal immigrants now in the country to remain and work their way to citizenship after 11 years. The Hagel-Martinez proposal would permit immigrants here for at least five years to get on a citizenship path, but not more recent arrivals.

Minority Leader Sen. Reid (D-Nev.) has objected to votes on amendments that would alter the core provisions in the original bill from the Judiciary Committee that have any similarity to the legislation that McCain and Kennedy sponsored. The majority leader is working to strike a deal on the amendment issue before Thursday. Another possible amendment is from Sen. Kyl (R-Ariz.), his would make illegal immigrants ineligible for legal status if they were determined to be a danger to the United States or if they were guilty of a serious crime outside the United States or convicted of a felony, three misdemeanors or serious immigration violations in the United States.

The debate basically revolves around what type of path to citizenship you present. Both sides of the aisle are not fully supportive of an “automatic path to permanent residency or citizenship.” Both sides feel to have a bill with a guest worker program, it has to be bipartisan and there are some possibilities with some of the amendments out there to accomplish this. Behind the scenes, negotiations are fierce and reporters following the developments predict we are unlikely to see a fully conferenced bill before elections in the fall.