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Senate Debates Family Ties Provision in Immigration Bill

The Senate resumed debate of the immigration bill Tuesday, digging into a provision that would set limits on family members who can join immigrants in America. Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., discuss the issue.

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  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    As the Senate entered the second week of debate on a bill overhauling the nation's immigration laws, its chief Democratic architect, Edward Kennedy, expressed doubt about whether the fragile bipartisan coalition that put the legislation together would stay together.

    SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), Massachusetts: We're obviously concerned. It's a very — a lot of emotions on these issues. And I think, as we have seen in the last debate, a lot of these votes are decided by one or two votes. So we just have to sort of wait and see.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    One of the most contentious elements of the bill is a proposal to issue 380,000 visas per year determined by a new merit-based system rather than traditional family ties. Those wishing to enter the country would be awarded points based on employment qualifications, such as education, job skills, and English-language proficiency.

    But Colorado Republican Wayne Allard opposed one provision that would allow many of the agricultural workers already in the country illegally to get extra points for their previous work here, for owning a home, and for having health insurance.

    SEN. WAYNE ALLARD (R), Colorado: This supplemental schedule rewards people who enter the country illegally. Worse yet, it disadvantages other qualified people who seek to enter this country legally.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    But Senator Kennedy defended the bill as written, saying many of those who live here illegally have worked tremendously hard and deserve to be rewarded with the same consideration as those who will enter legally in the future.

  • SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY:

    But at the end of that time, what this legislation says to those people that have been a part of our whole kind of a system and that will have some opportunity to get a good deal of credit for working in agriculture here, here in America. And the amendment of the senator from Colorado strikes that provision.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    And in the end, the Allard amendment failed.

    Meanwhile, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez and Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel proposed increasing the number of legal immigrants eligible for green cards under the existing family-based system. Their amendment would accept green card applications made before January 1, 2007, rather than May 2005, as called for in the proposed bill. That would put green cards in the hands of an additional 800,000 immigrants.

    SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: That means more people would be included, but that should be the essence of what we're trying to do here. We're trying to clean up a backlog. We're trying to put in place a new workable, responsible system, and I think this amendment that Senator Menendez and I will offer helps do that.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    But Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, a member of the coalition that crafted the compromised bill, said changing the cut-off date would be a mistake.

    SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), Georgia: And I understand that it will eliminate a lot of people from being eligible for green cards, but all I can say is, they can go to the back of the line, make application like everybody else, and if they qualify, so be it. But we needed a cut-off date. We've got one, and I'm opposed to changing that.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Many Republicans argue for debating the immigration bill into next week, but Majority Leader Harry Reid said this afternoon he plans to finish it by Friday.

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