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Lawmakers weigh in on immigration bill

June 17, 2007|by TAMELA BAKER

WASHINGTON - Tri-State-area lawmakers held mixed opinions about the immigration bill that appeared dead 10 days ago.

The White House-backed bill stalled June 7, when supporters could come up with only 45 of the 60 votes needed to end debate on the measure.

Now, under an agreement reached Thursday, it appears an amended version of the bill will get another chance. The Senate will consider about 22 amendments, half from Republicans and half from Democrats.

The stalled bill, according to The Associated Press:

· Included measures designed to seal the border to future illegal immigrants, while cracking down on the hiring of workers who are in the country unlawfully.

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· Would allow illegal immigrants who were in the country as of Jan. 1, 2007, to come forward, pay fees and fines, pass a background check and receive an indefinitely renewable four-year Z visa to live and work legally in the United States.

· Could qualify holders of Z visas for citizenship if they learn English and hold down jobs. Heads of households would have to return to their home countries, whether or not they sought a green card bestowing permanent legal resident status.

· Would create a new employment-based point system for new immigrants to qualify for green cards based on their education and skill level.

· Would eliminate or limit visa preferences for family members of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents.

Support or oppose?


U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was on the record as opposing it, as was Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Their Democratic colleagues from Maryland, senators Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, both supported the bill last week in a procedural vote to move the bill forward. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and a key negotiator for the bipartisan bill, supported it, as did Pennsylvania's other senator, Democrat Robert Casey Jr.

House members from the region, including U.S. representatives Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.; and Bill Shuster, R-Pa., all are on the record opposing the measure.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett

In a statement posted on his Web site, Bartlett said, "My constituents oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants. Instead, they want the Congress to strengthen border security and enforce our current laws. We need to turn off the jobs magnet with improved work-site enforcement. Document fraud has become a widespread problem. Employers are ill-equipped to detect and authenticate workers' identification documents. Currently, there are more than 30 types of identification employers can use to verify employment eligibility."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller

Rockefeller said he believes Congress must find a "workable solution" to the problem of illegal immigration, but the Senate bill, as presented, wasn't it.

In a statement released last week, Rockefeller said, "In the end, I couldn't support the bill because it remained too deeply flawed. It doesn't do enough to ensure that employers stop hiring illegal workers, and it doesn't do enough to require major U.S. companies to hire and train U.S. workers first.

"It creates an unfair and complicated point system for legal immigration while essentially throwing out our historical commitment to unifying families.

"It allows 12 million people who are here illegally to jump to the front of the line and creates a guest worker program that could deny jobs and drive down wages for U.S. citizens.

"Rather than automatically granting legal status to all 12 million illegal immigrants, we should create a high bar for some based on their work history, payment of taxes, lack of criminal background and whether they even want to become a U.S. citizen."

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter

Specter argued that too much work had gone into the bill to let it die.

During floor debate on the bill June 6, Specter said, "One of my staffers said this bill has been the result of blood, sweat and fears - paraphrasing Churchill's blood, sweat and tears - and maybe more fears than blood and sweat. But we have come a long way. We have already seen a lot of finger-pointing on this floor. We seem to be a lot better in the Senate at finger-pointing than at legislating. But if this bill is pulled down, then you may even see toe-pointing because 10 fingers won't be sufficient for Republicans blaming Democrats and the majority leader for pulling down the bill, and Democrats blaming Republicans for a lot of dilatory amendments."

- Compiled by Tamela Baker

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