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Senate Opens Debate on Bipartisan Immigration Package

The U.S. Senate opened debate Monday on a new immigration bill that has already faced criticism from both political parties. Two immigration policy analysts discuss provisions related to the path to citizenship.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Now, Congress and the immigration debate, making illegal workers legal. We start with NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Several Republican senators came to the floor this afternoon to pledge they will not support an immigration bill that looks anything like the much-celebrated bipartisan compromise reached last week by their colleagues.

    Alabama's Jeff Sessions.

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), Alabama: The time is right for comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate, however, in my view, is not ready for debate today. The plan as we are moving today is unwise.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    In fact, the massive immigration proposal unveiled Thursday by senators from both parties has come under sharp criticism on several fronts. For instance, many of those advocating strict border enforcement as a priority believe offering a path to citizenship to the 12 million immigrants now in this country illegally amounts to amnesty.

    House Republican Brian Bilbray of California spoke on CNN yesterday.

    REP. BRIAN BILBRAY (R), California: The worst thing you can do if you try to control the illegal immigration is reward 12 to 20 million illegal aliens with citizenship and permanent residency.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Immigrants' rights advocates also are unhappy with two other components of the plan. One would skew the method by which green cards are awarded, favoring those with advanced skills, college degrees, and English-speaking ability over those with traditional family ties.

    Cecilia Munoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza.

    CECILIA MUNOZ, National Council of La Raza: The categories that they're proposing to get rid of are the categories that allow Americans, like me and you, to bring in their adult children and their brothers and sisters. And I'm really not sure that it's politically wise to say to the American people, "Total strangers are of more value to us than your own children, your own family members."

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The pro-immigrant community also takes issue with the plan's guest-worker program, which would allow temporary entry by 400,000 foreign nationals annually, but with no path to citizenship.

    Meanwhile, some employers argue the plan would require them to verify — using a government database — that all of their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States. Current penalties for employing undocumented workers would be increased.

    But late this afternoon, Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar came to the Senate floor to plead with his colleagues to give the compromise bill a chance.

    SEN. KEN SALAZAR (D), Colorado: At the end of the day, this bipartisan proposal, which we have put on the table, will allow us, first of all, to secure our borders. It will allow us to make sure that we're enforcing our laws here in the United States of America. And, third of all, it will deal in a realistic and humane manner with the economic realities that face our businesses and our workers here in America today.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Senators will be given the chance to change provisions of the bipartisan immigration plan through amendments debated and voted on throughout the week.

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