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Inside Politics

Bipartisan immigration bill faces bipartisan fight

Story Highlights

• Liberals say bill is unfair; conservatives object to what they call "amnesty"
• Senate Majority Leader Reid calls it "starting point" but has concerns
• Speaker Pelosi wants Bush to guarantee 70 GOP votes in the House
• Immediate work authorization for those who arrived before January 1, 2007
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The bipartisan immigration bill that could allow citizenship to an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States will run into bipartisan opposition in Congress.

Liberals say the bill is unfair because it limits opportunities for unskilled workers. Conservatives oppose what they call "amnesty" for illegal behavior and say it will encourage more.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was tepid in his support. In a statement, he said the agreement "can serve as a starting point" for debate when it gets to the Senate next week but that he had "serious concerns about some aspects of the proposal."

Even senators who helped draft the agreement acknowledged that not everyone will be pleased with the deal. Watch the balancing act politicians face from population changes and a backlash Video

"To the American people, I would say, 'Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good,' " said Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California.

Feinstein said the bill would ensure that border security is strong and that farmers, who depend largely on an undocumented work force, will be able to find workers.

Republican Sen. John Kyl of Arizona said that the agreement isn't perfect, "but it represents the best opportunity that we have, in a bipartisan way, to do something about this problem."

President Bush described the agreement as "one that will help enforce our borders but, equally importantly, it will treat people with respect.

"This is a bill where people who live here in our country will be treated without amnesty but without animosity." (Watch Bush praise bipartisanship of senators) Video

That view was challenged by Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California.

"Basically, when you give somebody benefits, when you give them a pathway to citizenship, when you allow them, starting January 1st to stay here illegally, when you allow them to work here, that is amnesty. It's nothing but amnesty," Royce told CNN.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association decried the proposal as "large-scale social experimentation," singling out the "guest worker" program as one that would preclude a path to permanent residence for new temporary workers.

"A practical solution for the undocumented population is an enormously important step in the right direction," the association said in a written statement. "But the cost of fixing our current problems cannot be the creation of bigger problems in the future."

The guest worker program would grant special visas to 400,000 temporary workers per year. The two-year visas would require workers to return home for a year, then be allowed to re-enter the country for two more years. The process could be repeated twice more.

Workers would be allowed to bring their families into the country on 30-day visitor visas, and each year, they would earn points toward a merit-based green card.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, said that he would introduce an amendment striking the guest worker progam from any legislation.

Dorgan said that large corporations favor the guest worker program because it would drive down wages in the United States.

"America's workers have enough downward pressure on their wages because of unfair trade deals and corporate outsourcing of millions of jobs every year," Dorgan said in a statement. "The last thing they need now is to have an inflow of millions of more immigrants competing for their jobs at substandard wages."

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said guest worker programs frequently amount to "virtual servitude," allowing employers to import temporary workers to do permanent jobs.

"All workers will suffer because employers will have available a ready pool of labor they can exploit to drive down wages, benefits, health and safety protections and other workplace standards," Sweeney said in a statement.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the bill started out being about how to deal with illegal immigration "and wound up being about what it means to be an American. ... I think we've got a deal that reflects who we are as Americans."

He added, "From the Ph.D. to the landscaper, there's a chance for you to participate in the American dream on our terms in a way that makes this country better."

Graham predicted the bill would find "overwhelming" support among lawmakers.

But Republican Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the bill is not a done deal.

"I believe (Thursday's) announcement is somewhat premature because specific legislative text has yet to be drafted on a number of key details," Cornyn said in a statement. "Until I have the opportunity to review this text, I will withhold from making more detailed comments."

Should the bill get through the Senate, it will proceed to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told the White House that she's not going to bring the issue to the floor unless the president can deliver at least 70 Republican votes.

The 380-page bill, which comes after nearly three months of negotiations, would give immediate work authorization to undocumented workers who arrived in the United States before January 1, 2007.

Heads of household would have to return to their home country within eight years, and they would be guaranteed the right to return.

Applicants would also have to pay a $5,000 penalty.

Additionally, the number of Border Patrol agents would be increased, border fencing would be strengthened and employers who hire undocumented workers would face fines.

The process of enforcing those provisions would take about 18 months, according to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.


THE PROPOSAL

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS:
• Those who arrived before January 1, 2007, will be given immediate work authorization, granted a "Z" visa and put on path to permanent residence.
• Head of household must return to home country within 8 years. They will be guaranteed back in.
• Penalty: $5000, staggered

ENFORCEMENT:
• Double border patrol, new security perimeter, border fence.

GUEST/TEMPORARY WORKERS:
• Guest worker program cannot begin until enforcement provision is in place.
• 400,000 temporary workers per year enter on two-year visas, must return home for a year then re-enter for additional two years. They may come three times.
• Earn points toward merit-based green card.
• May bring families on 30-day visitor visas each year.

Source: Sen. Edward Kennedy's office
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