RPT-US Senate leaders clear path for immigration bill
WASHINGTON, May 11 (Reuters) Republican and Democratic Senate leaders agreed today on a plan to revive a bill that would give millions of illegal immigrants a chance to earn US citizenship.
The sweeping immigration overhaul, which has triggered rallies by millions of immigrants and their supporters across the country, is expected to be considered by the Senate next week.
Despite the agreement between Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the outcome of the legislation remains in doubt. It faces opposition from some Republicans who say it gives amnesty to people who broke US laws.
Frist said opponents now will be allowed to offer ''a considerable number of amendments'' to the bill. In return, Democrats won an assurance that the bill's backers will have a input in eventual negotiations with the US House of Representatives.
The House passed a tough border security bill that would further criminalize illegal presence in the United States and the two bills will have to be merged.
The House bill, which would make illegal presence a felony instead of a civil offense, has drawn huge protests around the country from Hispanic groups and their supporters.
Frist said he wants the Senate to finish work on the bill by the end of the month when Congress takes a week-long break for the Memorial Day holiday.
The legislation stalled just before Congress' Easter break last month when Democrats, worried that Republican opponents would try to gut the bill, blocked consideration of amendments and sought to limit their number. Even though some of those amendments now will go forward, backers feel they have the votes to defeat them.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been pushing for the bipartisan immigration overhaul, said he was optimistic the Senate would pass the bill, which also includes a guest worker program backed by President George W. Bush.
''Today's agreement is a major step forward in our fight for tough but fair immigration reform,'' Kennedy said.
The Senate bill includes border security and enforcement measures, but also addresses the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. Millions would be given a chance to earn citizenship. The bill also includes a temporary worker program backed by President George W. Bush.
REUTERS CH PM2352