Senate Bridges Gap on Immigration Overhaul Senate leaders from both parties agree on a plan that should allow a long-delayed immigration bill to proceed. But the fate of the underlying legislation, which would strengthen the borders but provide a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants, must still be determined in the Senate next week.
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Senate Bridges Gap on Immigration Overhaul

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Senate Bridges Gap on Immigration Overhaul

Senate Bridges Gap on Immigration Overhaul

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

After weeks in legislative limbo, the Senate's immigration bill is moving again. It will return to the floor for debate and action next week. Today, Senate leaders announced a deal on procedure, a truce between the parties that will allow the bill to proceed. That means the Senate could pass a bill that would lead to legal status for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally. If so, the Senate would still have to reconcile its version with the House approach, which focuses on border security and tough enforcement.

NPR's Brian Naylor has the story from the Capitol.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The surprise announcement of an agreement to return to the immigration issue was made on the Senate floor this morning by Majority Leader Bill Frist.

BILL FRIST: And the process that has been laid out is one that we both feel is very fair. It will give the opportunity for the will of the Senate to express itself on a difficult issue, to which there are not very many clear cut answers.

NAYLOR: The issue, in fact, tied up the Senate as leaders of the two parties jousted over what amendments senators could offer and the nature of the bill itself. While senators were bickering over procedures, mostly Latino immigrant groups staged massive demonstrations in several American cities and organized a nationwide boycott by immigrants.

Also in the backdrop are the political aspirations of any number of senators, including Frist and Republican John McCain of Arizona, who are eying runs for the White House in 2008. McCain is a cosponsor of the immigration legislation with Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy. Democratic Leader Harry Reid said this morning that in the end, it came down to that rare flower in Washington these days, a compromise.

HARRY REID: This is not a time for anyone to claim victory. Certainly in this process I didn't get everything that I wanted. I think the Majority Leader didn't get everything he wanted. But in the legislative process, you know, it's, you, it's, legislation is the art of compromise, building consensus.

NAYLOR: Frist said the Senate will take up what he termed a considerable number of amendments to a bill that is already a compromise effort. It states that immigrants here illegally for five years or more could stay and apply for citizenship. Those here from two to five years would have to go back home or to what's called a point of entry and apply for guest worker status. Those here for less than two years would be ineligible for citizenship and would be required to return home.

Assuming the measure is passed in the Senate, it would then have to be harmonized with a House bill written in an entirely different key. It contains no provisions for guest workers or a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which conservatives decry as amnesty. Among other things, the House would require employers to verify the identification of workers and the bill calls for a fence to be built along about a third of the U.S. border with Mexico.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, who favors a tough approach, says to win his support any legislation must pass three tests, starting with securing the border.

JON KYL: Secondly, a temporary worker program means that the people are here temporarily, when there is a job for them. Not that they are, that they come here temporarily and then are granted a green card and citizenship. That's not necessary for a temporary worker program. And third, that the people who are here illegally and are going to have to be dealt with, are dealt with both in a humane and fair way that doesn't break up families, for example, but that does require those who want to work to participate in a temporary worker program.

NAYLOR: A White House spokeswoman said today the Bush administration looks forward to passage of the Senate bill this month. That's by no means guaranteed and even if the Senate succeeds it will still face its confrontation with the House.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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