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US Senate prepares for divisive immigration debate

Written by: Staff
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Washington, Mar 27: US lawmakers begin this week what President George W Bush says could be a ''fractious debate'' over border security, his temporary-worker proposal and measures to let some of the 12 million illegal aliens in the United States earn citizenship.

The US Senate is expected to take up immigration legislation after lawmakers return from a break. They can expect to be greeted at the Capitol by dozens of clergy wearing handcuffs to protest proposals that will make it a criminal offense to help an illegal alien.

At least 200,000 mostly Hispanic demonstrators protested in Los Angeles yesterday against the proposals, capping a series of smaller demonstrations for immigrant rights in US cities this month.

The issue looms large before the November congressional elections and is playing a role in jockeying among potential 2008 presidential candidates.

Emotions run high, and Americans, including Bush's Republican party, are divided between those who favor curbing illegal immigration through tighter border security and tougher enforcement and those who say it is essential to bring illegal workers out of the shadows with a comprehensive overhaul.

''This could be a fractious debate, and I hope it's not,'' Bush said at a news conference last week.

Bush leaves on Wednesday for meetings in Cancun, Mexico, with Mexican President Vicente Fox, who has been disappointed by the lack of progress on a US guest-worker program.

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had made clear to Mexico's foreign minister that the United States expected Mexico to recognize the importance of border defense and US law.

''We were assured by our counterparts that Mexico understands its responsibilities, our shared responsibility for safety and security at the border, and also for humane treatment of people, whoever they are,'' Rice said on CNN's ''Late Edition.'' Immigrant, labor and business groups are pushing comprehensive reform to give some of the illegal aliens who have been living and working in the United States for years a way to legalize their status.

''Any immigration reform has to be comprehensive and not mean-spirited,'' said Jaime Contreras, head of the National Capital Immigration Coalition.

VOTING POWER

Speaking at a news conference with Contreras last week, Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, said, ''There are millions of immigrants who have become citizens who are deeply motivated by what is happening to their families and communities and neighbors.'' ''Those immigrants can be expected to vote this November in record numbers,'' he added. ''We can expect them to help turn the tide in this anti-immigrant debate.'' The Senate Judiciary Committee is rushing to craft a comprehensive immigration overhaul that would establish a temporary-worker program and provide a way for illegal immigrants in the country to legalize their status.

They are trying to meet a deadline set by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and potential presidential contender in 2008. He plans to bring up his own border-security and enforcement legislation this week if the Judiciary Committee fails to produce a compromise.

Frist's tough approach mirrors a bill passed by the US House of Representatives. Neither includes a guest-worker program or offers a way to legalize the status of illegal workers.

Legalizing some of the 12 million undocumented workers is supported by union and business groups. Businesses also back Bush's guest-worker proposal to help fill jobs that Americans do not want or are unable to perform.

The Judiciary Committee is set to meet tomorrow in hopes of completing legislation that will incorporate elements of a proposal offered by Sens. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has presidential ambitions.

That compromise would provide a way for some illegal aliens to legalize their status and eventually earn citizenship.

Such a bill would anger some conservatives in the House who believe it would reward people for illegal actions.

Rep Tom Tancredo of Colorado joined 70 other House Republicans to oppose a comprehensive approach. In a letter to Senate Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, they said such a bill ''would doom any chance'' of legislation reaching the president this year.

REUTERS

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