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US Lawmakers Set to Take Up Divisive Immigration Debate


Members of a U.S. Senate committee are set to tackle the divisive issue of illegal immigration Monday, as protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building.

The Senate Judiciary panel will consider a bill sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy that would provide a way for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now living in the United States to become legal residents or U.S. citizens.

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter is expected to introduce a different bill that would include a guest worker plan.

A bill passed by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives in December would build a fence along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border, make it a felony to be in the United States illegally and impose new penalties on employers who hire undocumented workers.

Proposals to toughen immigration laws sparked a massive protest Saturday in Los Angeles and smaller rallies in a number of U.S. cities.

Under the bill passed by the House, churches and social welfare groups would have to ask immigrants for legal documentation before giving them aid.

That provision has been denounced as punitive and unjust by Roman Catholic and other religious leaders. Clergymen are expected to don handcuffs in Washington today to protest some congressional proposals that would make it a crime to help undocumented workers.

President Bush has called for comprehensive immigration reform, including a temporary worker program that would allow foreign workers to enter the country legally for a limited period of time.

The president stresses his temporary worker program would not provide amnesty to those who are illegally in the country.

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