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Immigration Debate Heats Up

Gary Martin of the San Antonio Express News reports that the Judiciary Committee is putting the finishing touches on an immigration bill for the Senate to debate. For those following this issue closely, the Committee is working up the McCain-Kennedy proposal which is considered the more lenient of the two competing immigration bills in the Senate (John Cornyn and Jon Kyl co-sponsor the tougher version) which some characterize as granting "amnesty" to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Majority Leader Frist set a deadline for the Senate to debate immigration reform by the end of the month - with or without a bill on the floor. As you can see from Martin's report, this is going to be a very, very contentious debate:

Despite the wrangling, the committee reached a compromise under which the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country would be eligible for permanent status, but only after 3 million people seeking visas through legal channels are processed.

Specter said the compromise "laid the groundwork for some productive staff work."

Senate staff will iron out the details next week, when lawmakers are in recess.

The agreement was praised by groups seeking an increase in legal immigration.

"This is a real turning point today, and a real blow to Senator Frist," said Cecilia Munoz with the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic rights organization.

Frank Sharry with the National Immigration Forum applauded the panel for standing up to Frist, who is "trying to hijack this process and playing politics with it."

But 70 House members, led by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., sent a letter to Specter voicing "grave concern" about some of the Senate proposals.

Tancredo, chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, warned against guest worker provisions and any form of "amnesty" that would reward those who have broken immigration law.

Some of the Senate provisions are incompatible with the House bill, Tancredo said, and could "doom any chance of a real reform bill reaching the president's desk this year." [snip]

"Under any scenario, there can be no amnesty for those who have broken our laws and I will not support any such proposal," Cornyn said.

Martin reports that Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said he would be willing to put Cornyn's bill to a vote, but both Cornyn and Kyl concede it doesn't have enough support to pass. Immigration reform is one of the fault lines in the GOP and it's going to be very interesting to see this heated debate play out publicly over the next few weeks.

MORE:
"Lawmakers at odds on immigration" - Rick Klein, Boston Globe
"A fence and legalization may break the stalemate" - Colin Hanna, San Francisco Chronicle
"Mexico Weighs In On Immigration" - Michelle Mittlestadt, Dallas Morning News