The U.S. Senate is to begin debate on immigration reform next week. But prospects for passage of any legislation remain unclear amid partisan wrangling over what to do about the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country. VOA's Deborah Tate has this report from Capitol Hill.
Immigration reform is a key priority for the Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
"I believe immigration is one of the most important issues facing our country today. Our immigration system is broken and needs fixing," he said.
Immigration reform is also a priority for President Bush, who has proposed establishing a guest worker program that could give the estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented workers in the United States a path to U.S. citizenship.
The Senate passed immigration reform legislation last year with the guest worker provision, but the legislation died because the House of Representatives never acted on the measure.
Senator Reid plans to reintroduce the bill next week. But many Republicans oppose the measure because they believe the proposed guest worker program with its promise of citizenship amounts to rewarding immigrants who broke the law when they crossed the U.S. border.
"Will we continue to see people all over the world get the idea in their heads, correctly today basically, that if they can just get into America sooner or later we will make them citizens and give them everything even if they came here illegally?" asked Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions. "Is that the kind of message we want to continue to say or not?"
Republicans are signaling they may block any attempt to have last year's bill come to a vote again in the Senate.
Instead, they favor a possible bipartisan compromise that has been under discussion for weeks between the White House and senators in both parties.
"This exercise needs to be a bipartisan one or it will not, it will not, succeed," said Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. "That is an indisputable fact. Any effort to move legislation on this issue that is not the result of an ongoing bipartisan discussion would be a clear signal from the Democrats that they are not yet serious about immigration reform."
News reports say the possible deal calls for establishing greater control of the U.S. border with Mexico and implementing an identification system for immigrant workers. Those measures would be put in place before allowing illegal immigrants already in the United States an opportunity to pursue legal status. Reports also say the plan would limit immigrants' ability to bring their families to the United States.
It is not clear if the compromise legislation can be concluded in time for the Senate debate next week.