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Lawmaker balks at Senate immigration plan

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Senate plan to provide illegal immigrants with a shot at citizenship probably is a deal-breaker that will prevent passage of a compromise on immigration overhaul, the House’s lead negotiator said Sunday.

“The words ‘path to citizenship’ is a buzzword for amnesty. We ought to be honest, it is amnesty,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Senate bill passed last week would tighten, offer a guest worker programs to bring in new foreign workers and provide a chance at citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.

The House bill generally is limited to border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Negotiators from both chambers will try to reconcile the differences and agree on a compromise.

Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., answered a flat “no” when asked Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether he would accept any legislation that would put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.

Sensenbrenner said the United States 20 years ago passed a bill that allowed illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. and become American citizens. He said that only increased the flow of illegal immigrants.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said the Senate took a comprehensive approach to dealing with illegal immigration and he took issue with Sensenbrenner’s characterization of the Senate’s approach.

“Amnesty. That’s nonsense,” Hagel said.

Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he, but not necessarily the Senate, could accept a phased-in compromise: enforcement first, then moving to citizenship issues.

“I personally would, because I think, first and foremost, you’ve got to lock down the borders. You can’t allow this hemorrhaging of millions of people,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said he agreed that border enforcement has to be the first priority and then employers have to know they will be held accountable if they hire illegal workers.

“And then, finally, we have to deal with the people who are here living in the shadows. It’s not amnesty. It’s not automatic,” Durbin said. “As Senator Frist explained, it’s a long, tough process that many of them will not complete successfully, but at least gives them a chance.”

Hagel said the Senate bill would require all immigrant workers to have a tamperproof identification card. They would not be allowed to get a job without it. He said the United States cannot ignore their existence by just focusing on border security.

“To just walk away from it and say, ‘Well, we’re going to enforce our borders first and then maybe we’ll get to the rest of it,’ we fail the American public,” Hagel said.

Under the Senate bill, illegal immigrants who have been in the country five years or more can continue working and eventually become legal permanent residents and citizens after paying at least $3,250 in fines and fees and back taxes and learning English.

The illegal immigrants in the U.S. between two and five years would be required to go to a point of entry at the border and file an application to return. Those in the country less than two years would be required to leave.

Both chambers have provisions that increase the fine for employers who hire illegal immigrants. The Senate bill would increase maximum fines to $20,000 for each illegal worker and impose jail time for repeat offenders. The House bill would increase the maximum fine to $40,000 per violation and establish sentences of up to 30 years for repeat offenders.