Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, April 6, 2006
Washington — The Senate reached an extraordinary and fragile bipartisan agreement today on a sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration law that would grant a chance to permanent residence for illegal immigrants who have been in the country longer than five years — an estimated 7 million people.
Those who have lived in the country illegally between two and five years would have to report to a port of entry to apply for a visa, but also would receive a chance at permanent residence, along with their families. Officials estimate about 5 million illegal immigrants would fall into that group and — if the Senate’s legislation passes and becomes law — they would have three years to apply for the new visa.
More recent arrivals would have to return home and apply for visas, but they would have the authorization to travel across the border that they lack now.
Final details continued to be worked out by senators and their aides with votes expected on the immigration legislation today and Friday.
President Bush early today signed off on the compromise, as did the Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. It was reached after three days of intense negotiations that came about after the Senate had reached an impasse that threatened to kill any legislation for the year. A key player was Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican who also announced the agreement in Spanish in the Senate television gallery, a first.