Senator Leaders Could Produce Own Border Security Bill

Feb. 22, 2006: Senator Leaders Could Produce Own Border Security Bill

Senator leaders could produce own border security bill
By Emily Heil
The Congress Daily, February 22, 2006

Signaling that the immigration issue faces a tough fight, the Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to produce a wide-ranging bill, while Senate leaders are poised to write their own legislation.

A senior GOP leadership aide said Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is operating on 'two tracks' on immigration, waiting to see what the Judiciary panel produces 'while being ready to act in lieu thereof to meet member interest of action on this bill.'
Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sounded confident that his panel would produce a bill that would wind up on the Senate floor. 'The idea of having a leadership bill … has been abandoned,' he said last week. His panel will begin marking up immigration legislation March 2.

A chairman's mark expected to be introduced this week will resemble the mark Specter circulated last year, which borrows components from various immigration proposals. It included the border security provisions in the plan introduced by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., as well as the guestworker plan introduced by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Specter has characterized the mark as a 'starting point' for debate.

Frist has told colleagues he wants to begin floor debate in late March, likely March 27. Senate aides said whether the bill will be written by the committee or leadership depends on how the Judiciary Committee markup goes. 'If the committee keeps the bill solid, and if it gets it done on time, Frist won't need to introduce anything,' one GOP aide said.

Frist, while touring immigration detention centers Tuesday in Long Beach and Los Angeles, said he opposes giving illegal workers amnesty, but said it was too soon for him to take a position on a guestworker program, which is likely to be the most contentious component of an immigration bill and has divided Republicans.

The House passed legislation last year toughening border security and requiring companies to verify the legal status of their employees. Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill is widely expected to include some version of a guestworker program.

The program included in the Kennedy-McCain bill would allow illegal workers to join a temporary guestworker program, after which they could be eligible for permanent citizenship if they meet criteria and pay a fine. Under the Cornyn-Kyl plan, guestworkers ultimately would have to return to their home countries.