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Supporters of immigration bill confident

Story Highlights

• Bill critics say it will create a subservient class of itinerant workers
• There are about 12 million people living illegally in the U.S.
• The bill is 628 pages
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After almost a week of contentious debate over a broad immigration bill, senators said Thursday they expect the bill to pass.

"We had an avalanche of objections to the bill before there was a bill," said Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

"And now that we're moving ahead, I think we're in about the right position. We see essentially no enormous roadblocks or no poison pills or no killer amendments ahead that we can't deal with." (Read about the Senate lowering the number of guest workers allowed in U.S.)

Specter spoke at a news conference moments after the Senate defeated an amendment Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota proposed. It would have ended the temporary-worker program after five years.

Critics of the immigration bill contend it will create a subservient class of itinerant workers in dead-end jobs without guarantees of minimal labor standards or Social Security.

The Senate hasn't addressed those issues directly but on Wednesday voted 74-24 to cut in half the number of people who would be included in the bill's guest-worker program.

Earlier Thursday, the Senate defeated an amendment by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota that stipulated that local and state law enforcement agencies would be able to communicate with federal law enforcement agencies about suspected immigration violations.

The Senate unanimously approved Republican Sen. John McCain's amendment that requires illegal immigrants to pay back taxes on their earnings for the time they had been in the United States.

The provision was omitted from the original bill because such taxes are considered impossible to collect.

"I don't know how you calculate it, to tell you the truth," McCain said. "I think people ought to pay back taxes that are owed."

The 628-page bill was made public last Thursday, and debate began Monday.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California agreed that some of the details have proved distasteful. "Some of us have had to swallow some things that we might not want," she said.

But overall, she said, the bill would improve the outlook for American security, employers and immigrants by beefing up border enforcement and creating a path to legalization for the estimated 12 million people in the United States illegally.

"I hope we keep the big picture in mind," she said, noting that it would be easy for the bipartisan coalition supporting it "to become frayed."

"I think, before too long, we may have a bill," said Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, who emigrated from Cuba as a boy. "Estamos progresando." (We are progressing.)



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