The Senate Judiciary Committee last night approved a plan that would put millions of illegal aliens on a path to U.S. citizenship, would let them stay here while applying and would not punish their unlawful entry as a felony, contrary to a House-passed bill.
“A path to earned citizenship is what this bill is all about,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said after joining all Democrats and three other Republicans on the panel to approve the plan, which many consider an “amnesty.”
The sudden approval—after weeks of negotiations that often had appeared fruitless—likely will lead to a showdown with the House, which last year approved an immigration bill that only tightened border security.
“If the bottom line is that all people that came here illegally have got to be made citizens, then we should have the vote now,” Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican who fought the proposal, said in the seven-hour committee meeting yesterday.
“That’s amnesty, and that won’t work. And the House won’t even go to conference with something like that,” he said.
It was still not clear last night whether the bill would even make it to the floor of the Senate, which yesterday began debating legislation offered by Majority Leader Bill Frist that bypasses the Judiciary Committee and deals only with border security.
“A nation that can’t secure its borders can’t secure its destiny or administer its laws,” said Mr. Frist, who introduced his bill yesterday. “And the situation along our southern border now ranks as a national security challenge second only to the war on terror.”
Mr. Frist’s “Securing America’s Borders Act” would hire more border-patrol officers, build limited fencing in high-traffic areas and toughen the penalties for being in the U.S. illegally. The bill does not, however, have the guest-worker provisions included in the committee bill.
The Tennessee Republican—who is widely expected to seek his party’s nomination for president—has made clear to the Judiciary Committee that he would not consider adopting any guest-worker or “amnesty” provisions that didn’t garner a majority of the Republican vote in committee.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican who has led the fight against illegal immigration, said the committee’s proposal “provides nearly universal amnesty” for the more than 11 million illegal aliens in the U.S. and adds hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to a background-check system that is “already on the brink of collapse.”
“If the Senate follows the Judiciary Committee’s lead, the prospects of getting a reform bill to the president’s desk this year are slim, to say the least,” he said.