Senators and White House Agree on Immigration Senators have reached a bipartisan deal with the White House on enacting an immigration overhaul. The measure would include procedures for border security and stronger employer sanctions, as well as a new emphasis on legal immigrants who rely on work visas as opposed to family visas.
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Senators and White House Agree on Immigration

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Senators and White House Agree on Immigration

Senators and White House Agree on Immigration

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Senate negotiators have reached a deal on comprehensive immigration legislation. It would give legal status to the estimated 12 million undocumented aliens in the United States. It also calls for new border security measures. It makes it somewhat more difficult for immigrants to bring family members into the country.

The full Senate is scheduled to take up the bill next week. And as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, President Bush says he looks forward to signing it.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The measure was the product of some two months of behind-closed-doors negotiations that included a bipartisan group of senators and two Cabinet secretaries. Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts announced the deal this afternoon.

Senator TED KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Politics is the art of the possible, and the agreement we just reached is the best possible chance we will have in years to secure our borders, bring millions of people out of the shadows and into the sunshine of America.

NAYLOR: The complex legislation, some 380 pages long, addresses a number of thorny problems, including a porous border with Mexico, lax enforcement of existing immigration laws and the 12 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally. The measure would allow those undocumented aliens to get provisional or Z visas, allowing them to stay in the U.S. legally.

But to move towards citizenship, the heads of households of those immigrants would have to return first to their home country. Immigrants would also need to learn English, pay a fine of $5,000 and then, as several senators put it, get at the back of the line for citizenship. The process could take a dozen years or more.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was one of the negotiators.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): So this started out as a process to deal with illegal immigration. I think we've got a bill that reflects who we are as Americans. And the people who will get to participate in this program will get a chance to be an American - on our terms, not theirs.

NAYLOR: The measure also provides for a temporary or a guest-worker program in which workers would be allowed into the country for two-year periods but would then have to leave. Another controversial provision changes the priority for those seeking work visas. Visas would be awarded on a point system based on the type of job and education level of the applicant. Immediate family members would also qualify for visas but it would be harder for extended family members to receive them.

Supporters of the agreement insisted none of these amounted to amnesty, as conservative critics of the deal are already charging. Florida Republican Mel Martinez said it provided, instead, for security.

Senator MEL MARTINEZ (Republican, Florida): I think it's essential to have a worker verification ID, and then beyond that, to have a guest-worker program that actually is a guest-worker program, while at the same time, look into the people that are here today and allowing them to know that they're going to have a future. So they not need fear the Migra is going to come to get them anymore.

NAYLOR: The measure orders the hiring of 6,000 additional Border Patrol agents and steps up enforcement on the border with unmanned surveillance aircraft, vehicle barriers and additional fencing. Employers would face tougher sanctions if they were caught hiring undocumented workers.

Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia says it will be up to Congress to provide money for all of the new provisions to ensure the bill's success.

Senator JOHNNY ISAKSON (Republican, Georgia): If we don't do the funding, if the secretary doesn't install the barriers, it doesn't hire the agents, doesn't get the unmanned air vehicles, doesn't get the ground positioning radar, if we don't have a verifiable biometric identification for all people coming in, you have no bill.

NAYLOR: Some Senate Democrats were cool to the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he has serious concerns about some aspects of the bill, calling it a starting point for debate. President Bush, who's not had much success in dealing with congressional Democrats on Iraq, held out hope that immigration would provide him a legislative victory.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Immigration is a tough issue for a lot of Americans. It's a - the agreement reached today is one that will help enforce our borders, but equally importantly, it will treat people with respect. This is a bill where people who live here in our country will be treated without amnesty, but without animosity.

NAYLOR: The agreement will face its first hurdle on Monday in the Senate, where 60 votes will be required to begin debate.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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