MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
Today, President Bush called on the Senate to revamp the nation's immigration laws despite the current stalemate.
GEORGE W: This is a vital debate. I thank the members who are working hard to get a bill done. I strongly urge them to come to conclusions quickly as possible and pass a comprehensive bill.
NORRIS: The administration is having a hard time getting Congress to sign onto its ideas on immigration. And that has NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr thinking about battles over immigration from the past.
DANIEL SCHORR: The kind of comprise on immigration that President Reagan managed to steer through Congress may not be possible in the fractious climate of today. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided for a one-time amnesty for some three million undocumented immigrants, and from then on criminal penalties for employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants. That provision was not strictly enforced.
Toda, 20 years and 11 million illegal immigrants later, in another election year, Congress and the country are deeply split over what mix of crackdown and forgiveness would be an acceptable comprise. The House last December adopted a bill built around a proposal for a 700-mile fence to keep undocumented immigrants out. The Senate, with general support from President Bush, fashioned a bipartisan compromise called the McCain-Kennedy Bill, which the Senate began debating last week.
The Senate bill does not call for any physical barrier. It would provide illegal immigrants with a pathway to citizenship by paying fines and back taxes and learning English. That bill is bogged down, not as you might imagine by partisan strife, but by strife within the Republican ranks. Symbolically, the two senators from the border state of Arizona, McCain and Kile, are fighting head to head against each other. Kile is opposed to allowing guest workers to become citizens.
The deep split extends to religious groups. The Reverend Samuel Rodriquez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference speaks of schism in the Evangelical Church. Some 50 Christian groups have written President Bush in support of earned citizenship for border crossers. Today Mr. Bush urged Congress to pass a comprehensive bill but did not specify the McCain-Kennedy Bill. This is a vital debate, he said. The prospect remains that the bipartisan bill will come up against a filibuster by one or more Republican senators, and it looks as though the burning issue of immigration reform will return to the backburner.
This is Daniel Schorr.