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Critics Take Aim at Heart of Immigration Bill

  Immigration  -   POSTED: 2007/06/19 16:43

Senators critical of immigration legislation that is expected back on the Senate floor this week will aim 20 or so amendments at core elements of the bill, hoping to substantially alter or kill it. The amendments, evenly divided between the two parties, go to the heart of a bipartisan deal that was negotiated behind closed doors and under the supervision of two Cabinet secretaries. A key procedural vote that would re-open the debate will likely take place June 22, said a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid said senators should prepare for votes over the weekend.

Leadership has yet to make public an official amendment list, but a draft list of at least 20 are circulating among staff and lobbyists.

Republicans and Democrats backing the legislation — a new version of the bill (S 1639) was introduced Monday — have said repeatedly that the basic tenets of the “grand bargain” must remain untouched for the group to hang together. Several amendments offered by both sides will test the influence of that group and determine whether the Senate can pass immigration legislation this year.

Democrats, aiming to appease constituency groups such as organized labor and Hispanics, intend to target the bill’s merit-based visa system that favors skills, education and occupations over family ties.

They also are looking to alter aspects of the bill that would allow businesses to employ temporary workers.

Green Cards

Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., has an amendment that would more than double the number of green cards issued annually to parents of U.S. citizens, increasing the cap from 40,000 to 90,000.

Dodd’s amendment also would increase the time frame that a parent of a U.S. citizen could stay in the country on a visa, from 30 days to 180 days.

An aide to Dodd said current law does not cap green cards for the parents of citizens and that the cap in the brokered deal “does not meet current demand.”

Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has introduced an amendment that would give family ties more weight in any point system that allows illegal immigrants to gain legal status.

Both Dodd’s and Menendez’s amendments could cause trouble with Republicans who have made ending so-called chain migration a priority.

Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has proposed an amendment that would ban employers from hiring guest workers for a year if they fail to post those positions with state employment agencies. The provision would require an employer to post the opening with such an agency 90 days before an application for a foreign worker is filed and for a period of one year after.

An amendment by Vermont independent Bernard Sanders would bar employers from hiring foreign workers if they have conducted mass layoffs. Visas for employment would not be approved until an employer has provided written certification, under penalty of perjury, to the secretary of Labor stating it has not had mass layoffs in the past 12 months. In the case where an employer has foreign workers at the time of a mass layoff, those visas would expire 60 days after notice has been sent.

Reid pulled a previous version of the immigration bill (S 1348) from the floor June 7 after nearly two weeks of debate.

Reid has made it clear that he wants Republicans and Democrats to agree on a finite list of amendments before he resumes consideration of immigration legislation.

President Bush paid a rare visit to the Senate on June 12 to try to revive the legislation.

Border Enforcement

With the legislation set for possible action later this week, Republicans, joined by a few Democrats, have amendments that would beef up border and enforcement provisions and would focus attention on the bill’s most contentious provision: allowing an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to stay indefinitely on new Z visas and ultimately become citizens.

Republican Norm Coleman of Minnesota will attempt a second time to offer an amendment allowing officials of federal, state or local government entities to question individuals about their immigration status if the officials have probable cause to believe the individuals lack legal status.

The amendment failed, 48-49, on May 24. A spokesman for Coleman said the amendment could undergo “some slight changes,” but that it would achieve the same purpose.

Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., has proposed an amendment that would prevent Z visa holders from earning green cards, while John Thune, R-S.D., would deny probationary benefits to the current illegal population until the bill’s series of border security and enforcement triggers are met.

John Ensign, R-Nev., has an amendment that would strike a provision in the bill allowing illegal immigrants to petition in the first six months after the bill’s passage to receive credit for Social Security taxes paid while using fraudulent identification to obtain work.

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