A group of U.S. senators from both major political parties has reached agreement with the White House on comprehensive immigration reform legislation. President Bush is urging lawmakers to approve the measure as soon as possible. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The compromise, reached after weeks of difficult, closed-door negotiations with the White House, was announced Thursday by a group of Republican and Democratic party lawmakers, led by Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. "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," he said.
President Bush praised the plan, saying it treats undocumented workers without amnesty but also without animosity, and he urged the Senate and House to act on it soon. "I really am anxious to sign a comprehensive immigration bill as soon as I possibility can. Today we took a good step toward that direction," he said.
The compromise includes a proposal to deal with the estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented workers in the United States as well as future immigrants. It calls for greater border security and punitive measures against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Under the deal, illegal immigrants already in the United States would come forward and obtain a probationary card that would let them live and work legally in the United States. They could eventually get on a path to permanent residency and citizenship, but not until greater border security improvements are made and a high-tech worker identification program is in place.
The plan would also create a temporary worker program and a separate program for agricultural workers. Skill and education levels would be key considerations in deciding which future immigrants would be granted legal status.
Although the deal has won support from both sides of the political aisle, it is not without its critics.
Among them is Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat. "I could not sign on to the agreement announced in principle because it tears families apart. It says to many that they are good enough to work but not good enough to stay depending upon their category of individual," he said.
Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, says congressional passage will not be easy. "No matter what we craft, it is going to be attacked from both the right and the left. The bill hasn't even been presented, and it has already drawn criticism as being amnesty, on one side -- although the critics don't know what is in the bill - and on the other side, not sufficiently humanitarian," he said.
The Senate passed sweeping immigration reform legislation last year over the objections of many Republicans who opposed a guest worker provision that they argued amounted to amnesty. The House never acted on the measure.
Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, was one who opposed last year's Senate bill. While he says he is not completely happy with the current compromise, he can still support it. "From my perspective, it is not perfect. But it represents the best opportunity that we have in a bipartisan way to do something about this problem," he said.
Comprehensive immigration reform has eluded Congress for years. The current deal is seen as the last chance to reform the immigration system before the political spotlight shifts to next year's congressional and presidential elections.