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The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved an immigration reform bill that allows millions of illegal aliens to seek U.S. citizenship without leaving the country – but not before lawmakers stripped out a proposal that would mandate criminal penalties for those individuals inside the United States illegally.

The criminal-penalty aspect has been the cause of protests across the country, including one yesterday drawing hundreds of thousands to the streets of Los Angeles. Today, thousands of public-school students in L.A. walked out of class in protest, causing a major downtown freeway to be closed.

The 12-6 committee vote clears the way for the Senate to debate the bill beginning tomorrow.

“All Americans wanted fairness and they got it this evening,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who was instrumental in pushing the bill.

Under the legislation, illegal aliens in the United States would obtain six-year nonimmigrant visas under which they could work in the country and travel outside the country. The aliens would have to pay a $1,000 fine and undergo background checks.

After six years, the aliens would be able to meet certain requirements and then apply for a green card, or permanent residency.

The bill also provides for strengthening the border patrol and instituting a guest-worker program.

GOP Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mike DeWine of Ohio sided with the Democrats on the panel.

Two years ago, Bush proposed a guest-worker program that has been criticized by immigration-reform advocates as nothing more than an amnesty program for foreigners who entered the United States illegally.


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