SEPTEMBER 20, 1996
Kwame Holamn takes a look at the Democrats' attempt to retake Congress. The outcome is far from clear, and, as always, issues remain unresolved.
KWAME HOLMAN: The flood of illegal immigrants who enter the United States, principally across the border with Mexico, is the impetus for immigration reform legislation that's moving through Congress this year. Though the House and Senate have passed different versions of an immigration bill, a final compromise now being worked on is likely to include provisions passed by both. They include: a thousand new border patrol agents to be hired in each of the next four years, nearly doubling the force to ten thousand; a requirement that persons caught entering the United States illegally or overstaying their visa be prohibited from ever gaining legal entry; establishment of a pilot program in several states to help employers electronically check the residency status of job seekers, and steps would be taken towards standardizing residency documents like birth certifications and Social Security cards. Florida Congressman Bill McCollum.
REP. BILL MC COLLUM, (R) Florida: That to me probably is the most significant thing in this bill is the movement to narrow the number of ID's down, to make that more manageable, to give Immigration & Naturalization Service the tools to in the future make it work to stop people who are illegal from getting jobs.
KWAME HOLMAN: There is, however, one issue that is holding up final passage of the immigration bill, and, in fact, could doom it. It's an amendment sponsored by Elton Gallegly, Republican of California, that would allow states to bar illegal immigrant children from public schools.
REP. ELTON GALLEGLY, (R) California: The original version, the unmodified version, doesn't take anyone out of school, doesn't say you should take anyone out of school, doesn't say, you can't or you can't take anyone of school or--it only says that the federal government can no longer force the states to provide for a free public education to illegal immigrants, not the children of illegal immigrants, but illegal immigrants.
KWAME HOLMAN: But President Clinton has said he will veto the immigration bill if it contains the Gallegly amendment for many of the same reasons shared by California Democrat Xavier Becerra.
REP. XAVIER BECERRA, (D) California: So many people in law enforcement are against the Gallegly amendment because ultimately you don't accomplish the purpose, which is to have adults who are crossing our borders without documents, leave. What you're accomplishing is to kick kids out of school and put ‘em on the street, whether they're five years of age or fifteen years of age. Someone's going to pay the price of that policy.
KWAME HOLMAN: The public education amendment isn't part of the Senate immigration bill, and the sponsor of that bill, retiring Republican Alan Simpson, would just as soon not make it part of the final bill either.
SEN. ALAN SIMPSON, (R) Wyoming: No one I know is interested in “kicking children out into the streets.” I certainly am not, and I've always had some serious problems with regard to the thought about the Gallegly amendment.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Simpson isn't alone. As many as a dozen Republican Senators don't want the Gallegly amendment added to the final bill. Democrats seem to delight in the split among Republicans over the education issue that has stalled movement of the immigration bill for weeks.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D) Massachusetts: The real tragedy is the Republicans want to have a bill that the President will veto and he'll veto it with the Gallegly, so that they'll bear responsibility for failing to address illegal immigration, and on the other side of it, they don't want to take Gallegly out because they fear that he'll sign it, and he'll get the credit for passing an immigration bill.
KWAME HOLMAN: Compounding the problem for Republicans is the fact Bob Dole supports allowing states to bar illegal immigrants from public schools, and reportedly is insisting the amendment be included in the final immigration bill, even if it means a presidential veto. But Alan Simpson, Dole's longtime friend, disagrees.
SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: I can't imagine anything more cynical than not signing an illegal immigration bill or working for its passage on something that's passed by such overwhelming margins on the basis that it is simply going to “help” the incumbent.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has as much as offered to remove the Gallegly provision if the White House will agree to the rest of the immigration bill.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: That bill is worth having with our without Gallegly, and I'd like to see if we can find a way to get that done.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Bill McCollum would like to do the same on the House side.
REP. BILL MC COLLUM: If the President would sign this bill without the Gallegly proposal in it, uh, it would make some sense to perhaps remove that proposal if that's his one objection, and let us come back and fight that issue on another bill in another Congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, many House Republicans aren't willing to drop the education amendment just yet, but this week, Elton Gallegly showed his willingness to compromise.
REP. ELTON GALLEGLY: We grand fathered everyone that was in the country illegally, currently enrolled in school, and still provided the federal government with the ability to force the states to provide a free public education for them that are currently enrolled.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Utah's Orrin Hatch, one Republican Senator who does support the Gallegly amendment, says now it's time for President Clinton to show some willingness to compromise.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) Utah: And the Gallegly amendment has been amended by agreement between the House and the Senate to such a degree that it goes a long way towards satisfying the President's and everybody else's concerns, and I think the President ought to get off the dime and get rid of the veto talk and start saying, look, let's pass it, and I'll accept it.
KWAME HOLMAN: But whatever happens will have to happen soon. Congress is scheduled to adjourn at the end of next week.