The immigration bill approved last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee was based on McCain-Kennedy legislation proposed in 2005. That plan would allow illegal immigrants who entered the US before Jan. 7, 2004, and who have jobs, to work legally for an additional six years and eventually become citizens afterpaying fines and meeting certain citizenship requisites. Most illegal immigrants presently in the US are Latinos who crossed over the US-Mexico border.
And in a Senate floor speech yesterday, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid made a strong, heartfelt plea for pragmatic and humane immigration reform legislation which includes a guest worker program and a path for citizenship for law-abiding, long-time guestworkers, " I strongly believe we need additional border patrol agents and the other measures included in the bill to secure our border and enforce our immigration laws with respect to employers. "
But I also believe that enforcement alone won’t fix our broken immigration system. To those who say we should secure our borders first, and then consider ways to reform our immigration laws, I say the only way to secure our borders is to reform our immigration laws."
Senator Reid continued, " We have eleven million people living in the shadows of our society. Many of these immigrants have been here for years, have children and spouses who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, pay taxes, own property, and are active, valuable members of our community. Virtually all of them came here to work. Our immigration laws...force them to live in hiding."
A separate bill sponsored by Senate majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and favored by a majority of Senate Republicans is silent (and solutionless) on the subject of illegal immigrants presently in the US, but boosts border enforcement and purports to crack down on millions of employers who hire illegal workers.
I say "purports" because laws have always existed to harshly penalize US employers from hiring illegal immigrants, but President George Bush and the Republican-led Congress have deliberately chosen to NOT enforce those laws in 21st century America, in order to provide businesses with a cheap labor force, and to generally depress US wages. As a result of this decision, 11 million immigrants now reside in our country.
Under the Frist plan, illegal immigrants would continue to live in the shadows, working for US employers at extraordinarily low wages, with no health benefits, poor working conditions and often living in squalid misery. Which sounds strangely like status quo.
No specific word, yet, when the Senate will formally vote on the McCain-Kennedy plan approved on a bipartisan basis by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Closed door negotiations continue as I write these words.