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Turning Point Reached on Immigration Reform

March 17, 2006

Senate Judiciary Committee Moves Toward Approval of Comprehensive Immigration Reform In Preparation for Upcoming Floor Debate


Washington, DCToday, the Senate Judiciary Committee took a dramatic step forward towards a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.  Having spent most of two weeks dealing almost exclusively with enforcement issues, and faced with an arbitrary deadline imposed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), today the Committee decided to take more time to complete its deliberations, made significant progress on how to treat the 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States, and signaled a potential compromise on the issue of how to structure worker visas for those admitted in the future.  The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington.


Yesterday, we feared that Chairman Specter would allow the clock to run out on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s efforts to report out a comprehensive immigration reform bill.  It turns out that our fears were unjustified.  Today, Senator Specter stepped up to the plate and followed through on asserting his Committee’s expertise and jurisdiction on immigration reform.  His insistence that his Committee be allowed to complete its work makes it much more likely that a comprehensive and effective immigration package will be the starting point for Senate floor debate later this month. 


Once he had made his demand for finishing the Committee process clear, Chairman Specter moved quickly to make progress on the most important issues remaining before the Committee: 1) the fate of the estimated 12 million people already living in the U.S. illegally; and 2) visas for “future flow” immigrants to be admitted legally in order to fill available jobs, within realistic and enforceable limits and with robust worker protections.


As a result of today’s discussions, it appears that there are bipartisan majorities in favor of workable strategies on both fronts.  On the issue of the 12 million undocumented immigrants already here, Chairman Specter signaled support for a bipartisan approach based on the McCain-Kennedy bill, on the following condition: that undocumented immigrants who come forward for earned legalization receive their green cards only after those waiting in line outside the country.  On the issue of how to structure a workable temporary worker program, there are encouraging signs that a bipartisan compromise may be at hand that would combine incentives for circularity for those who want to come and work and then go home, as well as provisions for a path to permanent residence for those who eventually sink roots in the U.S. 


Creating consensus on an issue more closely associated with conflict is a great achievement for Sen. Specter.  In the face of pressure from colleagues and the media to short-circuit their deliberations, the Committee made a decisive move towards creating sound policy. 


 

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