President Bush in 2004 introducing his proposal for a temporary guest worker program
Senate Democrats, Republicans and the White House forged a compromise today on an immigration bill that would grant quick legal status to millions of illegal immigrants and increase border security.
The bill, which would establish a temporary worker program, is not “amnesty,” insisted Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in anticipation of criticism.
“This will restore the rule of law,” he said.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, nevertheless, called the deal “Amnesty, a pardon and reward for lawbreakers.”
“Many senators claim that their deal renews respect for the rule of law,” King said. “Let me respond to that absurd statement by stating clearly, you cannot simultaneously tear down and rebuild one of our constitutional principles. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. The price for amnesty is the sacrifice of the rule of law.”
King, ranking Republican on the Immigration Subcommittee of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, said each of the senators who struck the deal “should wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ for amnesty.”
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., also was quick to label the bill “amnesty.”
The senator said it “rewards people who broke the law with permanent legal status and puts them ahead of millions of law-abiding immigrants waiting to come to America.”
“I don’t care how you try to spin it, this is amnesty,” DeMint said.
“I hope we don’t take a thousand page bill written in secret and try to ram it through the Senate in a few days,” he added. “This is a very important issue for America and we need time to debate it.”
The complex measure also would create a separate program for agricultural workers and institute high-tech methods to verify workers are in the U.S. legally.
President Bush, calling the agreement a “historic moment,” looks forward to signing the bill into law, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
The House is not expected to act until the Senate passes a bill.
The bill features a new point system for awarding green cards that gives priority to education and skill level over family connections.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., called the deal “the best possible chance we will have in years to secure our borders and bring millions of people out of the shadows and into the sunshine of America.”
Illegal immigrants would be allowed to come forward and obtain a “Z visa” that puts them on a track for permanent residency within eight to 13 years. Fees and a fine of $5,000 are required and heads of household first must return to their home countries.
The illegals would be able to obtain a probationary card right away to live and work in the U.S., but the path to citizenship cannot begin until completion of border improvements and the high-tech ID system.
The temporary worker program also would be delayed until the new security measures are in place. The workers would be required to return home after two years and would not be on a track for permanent status. The guest worker visas could be renewed twice, but the worker would be required to leave for one year between each renewal.
Democrats wanted guest workers to be allowed to stay indefinitely.
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