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US Congress Moves Toward Immigration Reform - 2004-02-13

In the midst of an election year, U.S. Congress is taking steps to move forward on reforming the country's immigration laws. But although both Republicans and Democrats alike can agree the system must be fixed, they have different ideas on how to do it. Some say more people will die in the meantime trying to illegally cross U.S. borders, while politics gets in the way.

For some members of Congress, like Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, reforming the U.S. immigration system is of great importance. His home state borders Mexico, where most illegal migrants come from.

"Our border is not secure," he said. "If we are going to assure the American people that we're going to win the war on terror, we have to have a secure border. And we're not going to secure our borders until we supply willing workers with willing employers who will then stem this flow of people coming across our border illegally."

Mr. McCain says he's not only concerned about the safety of Americans, but also of the migrants, hundreds of whom die every year trying to get across the U.S. border with Mexico.

He is urging Congress to adopt new laws.

"It's time we all got together and sat down and came up with a common proposal and acted before we go out in the August recess, or we will not act in an election year, and hundreds more will die," he said. "I hope we can act. I believe we should act. And I'm afraid we won't."

He is not alone. Mr.McCain and several other senators spoke at a Senate sub-committee hearing on immigration about the need to take action.

It was the first hearing since President Bush called on Congress on January 7 to reform the immigration system by developing a temporary worker program.

President Bush's proposals include offering temporary work visas to new workers or migrant workers already living in the United States. He says the aim is to bring illegal migrants "out of the shadows."

The proposal is to match willing workers with willing employers, providing no Americans can be found to fill the jobs.

Mr. Bush's plan also calls for incentives to encourage temporary workers to return to their home countries and families. It would grant permits for three-year periods, and would not give green cards to the migrants.

Democratic senator Ted Kennedy, of Massachusetts says the president's plan falls short.

"It creates a temporary worker program similar to the ones of the past that treated immigrant workers as second class citizens," said senator Kennedy. "It does little to provide permanent legal status for the millions of hardworking men and women in our communities."

Mr. Kennedy and Republican Senator Larry Craig from Idaho have drafted proposed legislation that includes an earned legalization program. They say they have support from 52 Senators from both parties, as well as 400 organizations across the United States.

Senator Kennedy says if the Bush Administration would indicate its approval of the bill, it could be "enacted immediately." But he concedes there is still a lot to debate.

"We may not be able to enact all or most of these reforms this year, but we ought to try," he said.

For now, the between eight and 15 million illegal migrants living in the United States will have to wait to find out whether they can come out of the shadows.