Immigration Bill: Good, Bad and Ugly

The Senate continued work on the voting on it in June. The bill contains items that lawmakers and the public will both love and hate. The country remains deeply divided on the issue.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The president made his case for a new immigration bill this past Thursday. The Senate spent most of the past week debating and tweaking the compromise immigration bill. Their original, self-imposed deadline for a vote was tomorrow, but the contentious week pushed the deadline to mid-June.

And as Congress heads home, voters will likely weigh in on many of the issues brought up in the bill. A New York Times-CBS News poll shows that Americans, by a large majority, support giving illegal immigrants a path to legal status. They also want a new guest-worker program created. However, Americans are divided over whether the recent wave of immigration has been good for the country and how open the United States should be to future immigrants.

Coming up: an employer's view of the guest-worker program. But first, where is the debate headed? To answer that question, NPR's Jennifer Ludden, who covers immigration issues, joins us. Jennifer, this is such a divisive issue among voters. When senators actually get back home, what do you think they're going to hear from their constituents?

JENNIFER LUDDEN: It's safe to say an earful.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: The anti-illegal immigration crowd has been very organized on this. As you said, in this new poll - and really for years, polls are showing there's something of a silent majority of Americans who actually support many of the provisions in this bill that say, okay, this may be amnesty, but you know what, if we make illegal immigrants jump through a few hoops and let them become citizens, I support that. And I know the immigrant rights groups are also gearing up to hit the politicians in their home states and bring this message.

HANSEN: So let's talk a little bit about the bill - that provision that offers legal status to most illegal immigrants and the argument that that is amnesty. Is it?

LUDDEN: It depends on how you define amnesty. You know, it's a slogan. I mean, who has a good definition? What supporters of the bill say is that it's not, because it's not forgiveness; we're not pardoning. We - would impose a $5,000 fee that could be staggered over a number of years, but there will be a financial penalty. The head of a household would have to also return to the home country to apply for the visa and also go to that back of the line, because first, about four million people who have applications pending to come to this country - they would be rushed through the system first. You're talking a good eight to 13 years before any of the 12 million here now would gain permanent legal status.

HANSEN: What about the guest-worker program? What are the options there?

LUDDEN: This is very contentious, and it's very confusing. The goal here for a lot of the Republicans who crafted this bill was, temporary means temporary. We don't want these workers coming and staying. So they would come for two years, have to go home for one; another two, home; another two, home for good. There's concern even among supporters about how workable that is, but what you hear some lawmakers is, look, there has traditionally been this circularity. We've had Latin Americans, Mexicans coming in, making money, sending it home to their families and then going back home. And we don't want to assume that everyone wants to be a U.S. citizen, so let's have a component for people who just want to come for a few years, make much more money than they could at home, and go back.

HANSEN: The opposing sides in this bill aren't necessarily obvious here. I mean, you have Democrats siding with the president, some Republicans opposed. Where is this bill likely to go?

LUDDEN: I think there is a really good chance it will get through the Senate. There's been - we've had in the past week everyone from every quarter dumping on this bill, because there's something for everyone to hate. But there's also something that almost everyone wants to happen in here. The country is very split on this issue, as are, you know, individuals - everyone who looks at their own view on immigration. It's a hard issue. You don't want 12 million people here illegally, but you may want your nanny to be here or your gardener. So they're ending the week with a lot more optimism about the chances of this bill than I think they started with.

HANSEN: NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Thanks a lot, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

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