WASHINGTON – Leading Democratic and Republican senators
have forged a sweeping immigration deal with the White
House that they say will seal the nation's porous borders
and provide hope of citizenship to millions of workers now
in the United States illegally.
The agreement announced yesterday was hailed by
President Bush as an “important first step toward a
comprehensive immigration bill.”
It arrives less than a year after House Republicans
deserted a Bush immigration push in droves, and a day
after this year's effort appeared about to collapse.
LAURA EMBRY / Union-Tribune
The Senate deal announced yesterday would be a boon
for growers and farmworkers in California and other
states because it contains a provision that would
give 1.5 million agricultural workers legalized
“The agreement reached today is one that'll help
enforce our borders, but equally importantly, it'll treat
people with respect,” Bush said.
Even as the president saluted the deal, critics decried
the compromise as an amnesty program that would reward
illegal immigrants for breaking U.S. laws and do too
little to plug the holes in the country's southern border.
The complaints were the same as those used to kill the
“They've probably done more with this announcement to
encourage illegal immigration than anything that's been
done in a long time,” said Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad,
who heads the conservative Immigration Reform caucus in
Interviewed on MSNBC, Bilbray added a shot at Bush,
stating, “I think, sadly, the president is so misguided on
this thing that he has totally lost his direction on it.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter, who has made calls for tougher
immigration policies a centerpiece of his long-shot
presidential campaign, delivered a similar message during
a meeting with Bush at the White House.
The Alpine Republican criticized the Senate compromise
for its treatment of the border fence bill that Hunter
pushed through Congress last year to fortify 854 miles of
the U.S.-Mexico border. He said the new deal would reduce
the barrier to only 370 miles and damage enforcement.
The compromise will undergo a critical test vote in the
Senate on Monday – giving both sides only four days to
rally their troops – and the architects of the deal joined
the White House in urging critics to study the deal. Sen.
Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., specifically urged Hunter to temper his
criticism, saying the compromise does not change the
border fence “one iota.”
Only 24 hours before yesterday's announcement, many
involved in the long process had begun to think they would
not succeed in bridging the sizable chasm between
conservatives focused on border security and law
enforcement and liberals and Bush seeking better treatment
and a “path to citizenship” for the millions already
working in the country illegally.
A bipartisan group of senators agrees on a
proposal for far-reaching changes in immigration
Skepticism: On the left, some criticized
the deal as undermining families; on the right,
some branded it as amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Debate: The proposal is likely to be the
subject of an intense battle in the Senate next
week and in the House this summer.
The negotiators had been meeting in private for more
than two months, with Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy as
the point man for Democrats and Kyl leading Republicans.
Brokering the talks were Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
In the end, both sides compromised, driven in part by
the belief that the country has demanded action and that
this was the last chance to push through legislation while
Bush is president.
Most notably, liberals agreed to end what conservatives
call “chain migration” by accepting a fundamental change
in the system that gives preference to family members of
immigrants and instead give the advantage to immigrants
who have higher education and job skills. Conservatives
agreed to penalties for employers who hire illegal
immigrants and a timetable that would permit the estimated
12 million illegal immigrants to get in line for eventual
The agreement would:
Permit those here illegally to
immediately obtain a probationary card allowing them to
stay and work while they pursue a new “Z” visa. They would
have to pay a $5,000 penalty and fees, and heads of
households would have to return to their home country
before getting the visa. Getting a green card could take
eight to 13 years.
Establish “triggers” that must
be met before a temporary-worker program is implemented.
Those triggers include building 370 miles of border fence,
amassing a Border Patrol force of 18,000 and a system to
verify work eligibility.
Establish a new “Y” visa
allowing immigrants to work here for up to six years as
long as they return to their home country for a year every
Establish a point system
giving green cards according to a new merit-based system
that gives less priority to family ties.
Require employers to verify
the work eligibility of their workers and require workers
to obtain more verifiable identification documents.
Declare that English is the
official language of the United States.
Kennedy said there had been doubt that a compromise
could be reached on such “an extremely complex, difficult,
very emotional issue and where there's been a lot of
divisions.” But he added that negotiators did not want to
let the moment pass. “I've been around here long enough to
know that opportunities like this don't come very often.”
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., called immigration “a third
rail in American politics” and stressed to conservatives
that the deal “is not amnesty. This will restore the rule
of law. Without legislation, we will have anarchy.”
Kyl said he was driven by demands from the voters in
Arizona for a fix. He was joined at a Senate news
conference by another conservative Republican who opposed
last year's bill but embraces this compromise, Sen. Saxby
Chambliss, R-Ga., who said that only a bipartisan bill can
“I've never seen a more emotional, more sensitive, a
more politically charged issue,” Chambliss said.
Notably, only one Democrat – Sen. Dianne Feinstein of
California – joined Kennedy at the announcement. New
Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who had been a key
negotiator on the agreement, rejected it, saying it would
tear apart families.
Feinstein pleaded for support from Democrats, saying,
“What we have tried to do here is listen to both sides . .
. and try to come together in a bill that will not
certainly please everyone, but a bill which will solve the
Feinstein also could claim a victory because the
compromise includes a plum she hopes to deliver to growers
and farmworkers in California and elsewhere.
Known as Agjobs, the provision would provide a path to
citizenship for an estimated 1.5 million farm workers who
agree to stay in the fields. Their spouses and children
who stayed behind in their home countries would be allowed
to join them.