Frist Pushes Stringent Immigration Proposal
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A sweeping revamp of immigration and border security laws hit a speed bump in the Senate today. Rather than bringing up a bill passed by a committee yesterday, Majority Leader Bill Frist is insisting on his own proposal. It deals only with border security issues. But backers of the broader bipartisan bill are confident the provisions dealing with immigrant labor will be added later.
Here's NPR's David Welna.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Majority Leader Frist has been promising the Senate will devote the next two weeks to hammering out immigration and border legislation, months after the House passed a hard line bill dealing only with border security. But today Frist announced that the Senate will instead turn to an unfinished lobbying reform bill.
Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): At a point in time we would expect after we finish with lobbying reform, we will go to the border security bill and we'll have more to say about how that bill will be handled at a later date.
WELNA: Significantly, Frist did not offer to bring up the immigration bill approved in committee yesterday. Instead, in defiance of President Bush's called for legislation that allows temporarily immigrant workers, Frist sided with conservatives in his divided Republican Party by offering his border security only bill. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who backs the committee bill that offers legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants, was dismayed by Frist's action.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): I don't believe it's in our national interest to do border security only, that's to me a copout.
WELNA: Florida Republican Mel Martinez, himself an immigrant from Cuba, said the Senate has to deal with the undocumented workers, the house legislation entirely ignores.
Senator MEL MARTINEZ (Republican, Florida): There are many ways that we can end up with a Guest Worker Program and deal with the 11 million here. Something short of simply ignoring the issue and doing only border security, or having some draconian measure of somehow rounding people up and sending them back.
WELNA: But Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said he had assurances that the more generous immigration bill his panel passed will be attached to Frist's bill as an amendment.
Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): We have a product which is a distillation of the committee work, and it will get there. One way or another, it will get there.
WELNA: Senate Democrats appear as united as Republicans are divided over the committee-passed immigration bill. Here's Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): It's an imperfect bill. But it's a bill that would allow America to be America. To bring 11 million people out of the shadows into daylight.
WELNA: Those who back legislation giving legal status to undocumented immigrants say street demonstrations across the nation in the past few days have helped their cause. Texas Republican John Cornyn disagrees.
Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): I'm not sure they help the debate, because I think to the extent they are people who have entered the country in violation of our immigration laws, who are demanding certain rights. I think that has a tendency to polarize people and not be particularly helpful.
WELNA: Many republicans would prefer not to deal with immigration during an election year. But at this point, that genie's already out of the bottle.
David Welna NPR News, the Capital.
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