Posted on April 18, 2005

Senate Confronts Immigration

Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, Apr. 18

The Senate will vote tomorrow on the first major changes in immigration policy in a decade, including a measure legalizing up to 1 million illegal-immigrant agriculture workers and dramatically changing two of the nation’s temporary-worker programs.

The votes will come as part of the debate on the Senate’s $80.6 billion spending bill to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — and are proving to be contentious.

The biggest showdown is over Sen. Larry E. Craig’s “Ag-Jobs” amendment, which would legalize illegal-immigrant agriculture workers and their families. Mr. Craig, Idaho Republican, calls it “rehabilitation” for the workers and their families, but opponents like Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, calls it “amnesty, I think, under any definition of it.”

Also pending is a vote on Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski’s amendment to raise the cap on temporary seasonal H-2B visas for foreign workers and Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ alternative to Mr. Craig’s bill, which would allow illegal agriculture workers to remain temporarily under a new program, but not give them a path to citizenship.

All three amendments will be subject to a 60-vote threshold for passage, as will a subsequent vote to limit debate on the underlying spending bill.

Some senators object to any of these votes happening on the war-spending bill. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, tried to head off the debate, arguing that the amendments are piecemeal.

Complicating this week’s debate is that the House, in its version of the emergency-spending bill, included immigration-security provisions to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to obtain and use driver’s licenses, place new limits on asylum claims and move to complete a section of border fence near San Diego.