Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said yesterday that the Senate likely will pass a version of immigration reform that includes more than the border-security overhaul he has proposed.
“It’s critical that the Senate address comprehensive immigration legislation including both border security and economic provisions,” he said in a reference to a guest-worker program that President Bush has called for, but which conservatives and House Republicans adamantly oppose until border security has been enhanced and current immigration laws have been enforced.
“The enforcement provisions included in both my bill and the Judiciary Committee’s bill are a step in that process,” he said in a prepared statement before officially beginning floor debate on the explosive issue. “I fully expect that the final bill will be a comprehensive approach to border security and immigration reform.”
But Mr. Frist—who is widely expected to run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination—later distanced himself from the bill finished this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That proposal would fine illegals but let them remain in the U.S. while they apply for full citizenship.
That bill “goes too far in granting illegal immigrants with what most Americans will see as amnesty,” he said on the Senate floor. “I disagree with this approach not just as a matter of principle but because granting amnesty now will only encourage future and further disrespect for the law. It will undermine our efforts to secure our homeland.”
Previously, Mr. Frist has maintained that the Senate would take up a bill dealing only with border security but left open the possibility that a guest-worker program of some sort might get added later through amendments. His statements yesterday were the clearest yet about what he expects the Senate to ultimately produce.
While the Senate is technically debating Mr. Frist’s border-security-only bill, Republican leaders say that will be swapped out with the committee’s bill that includes a guest-worker program and angers conservatives for containing provisions they call “amnesty.”