Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Denver Post: Immigration talks continue

Immigration talks continue
The administration and senators are still scrambling to put together legislation to provide a path to citizenship.
By Julie Hirschfeld Davis
The Associated Press

Washington - The Bush administration and key senators are struggling to agree on draft legislation to secure the U.S.-Mexico border before putting millions of illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship that could take 13 years.

Even then, immigrants would have to leave the country and pay large fines before gaining legal status.

Officials familiar with the discussions say that despite concessions by both Republicans and Democrats, a final agreement may not come before the Senate opens debate on the issue next week - if at all.

Still, the outlines of a possible deal have taken shape in almost daily secret talks attended by two members of President Bush's Cabinet. As contemplated, the proposal would bar undocumented immigrants from gaining legal status until the administration beefs up border security and implements a high-tech ID system for temporary workers.

Such measures are expected to take up to two years.

Even after that, officials said, it could take more than a decade before the 12 million men, women and children estimated to be in the U.S. illegally could get permanent legal status, or green cards. First the government would clear an existing legal immigration backlog, a task estimated to take eight years. Then the government would begin processing green cards for the 12 million here illegally, expected to take another five years.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D- Mass., has been leading negotiations with Republican senators and White House officials.

To jump-start debate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he will move today to bring up a measure from 2006 - either a Senate-passed bill or one approved by the Judiciary Committee. Both are regarded as much more liberal than the one now being hammered out.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., one of the lawmakers involved in the negotiations, made a plea Tuesday for more time, warning that moving too quickly could provoke a GOP filibuster.

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., is working with Kennedy and other senators. He backs a format that provides for enhanced enforcement at the border, a guest- worker program, and what he calls "humane treatment" for illegal immigrants.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., opposes any legislation that would grant legal status to those who entered the U.S. illegally.

Denver Post staff writer Anne Mulkern contributed to this report.
Details of possible deal
Package negotiated by Senate Democrats, Republicans and Bush administration officials:

Delays any guest-worker program or path to citizenship for illegal immigrants until certain "triggers" are met. They include hiring thousands of new border guards, erecting hundreds of miles of fencing and vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, and having a biometric identification system for immigrant workers in place.

Allows illegal immigrants who paid large fines and returned to their countries of origin to earn permanent residency and eventually apply for citizenship. Narrows visa preferences for family members of legalized immigrants.

Imposes up to a 13-year wait on illegal immigrants seeking legal status to obtain green cards for permanent residency. Visa backlogs for those already waiting in line would be cleared in eight years, and then the government would begin processing the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants over a five-year period.

Creates a temporary-guest-worker program and bars immigrant workers from bringing their families to the U.S. unless their incomes exceed 150 percent of the poverty level and they have health insurance.

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