WASHINGTON – In a major breakthrough, Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate embraced a compromise immigration bill Thursday, fueling prospects for likely Senate passage of a plan that would put most illegal immigrants on track to permanent legal status.
Senate passage would put the bill on a collision course with a tough border-enforcement bill that the House of Representatives passed in December. It wouldn’t give illegal immigrants legal status.
Thursday’s compromise broke a Senate stalemate and revitalized President Bush’s call for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. Nevertheless, a group of Senate Republicans and House conservatives wasted little time in attacking it.
A House-Senate negotiating committee will craft the legislation’s final terms, but some lawmakers and outside groups who have a stake in the immigration debate said the differences might be insurmountable.
“I do not believe a plan of this nature can pass the House,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., the leader of a conservative coalition that opposes legalizing undocumented aliens. “It’s miserable public policy.”
In a statement after the agreement was announced, Bush acknowledged that there are “still details to be worked out” but called on senators to work hard to pass the bill before Congress quits work today for a two-week Easter recess.
The agreement would retool a comprehensive immigration plan that the Senate Judiciary Committee passed, which would have put nearly all illegal immigrants who are now in the country – estimated as up to 12 million – on a path toward permanent legal status and eventual U.S. citizenship.
Under the compromise, a three-tiered system would offer legal status to what the Pew Hispanic Center estimates as 6.7 million illegal residents who’ve been in the United States for five years or longer.
More than a dozen key senators, including Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., embraced the agreement and predicted it would win Senate passage with a bipartisan majority.