Immigration bill jams Senate

Lawmakers of both parties struggle to hash out deal by week's end


WASHINGTON -- With the prospect of a legislative failure looming, the Senate struggled yesterday to reach a compromise on a bill that would determine the future of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.

In an effort to drum up additional Republican support, senators of both parties and their aides huddled in meetings throughout the day, trying to hash out a deal by week's end that would guarantee citizenship to about 7 million illegal immigrants, rather than virtually all of them. And for the first time, senior Democrats, including Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, joined in the negotiations.

For the Democrats, who had insisted Tuesday that they would accept nothing less than a guaranteed path to citizenship for nearly all illegal immigrants, the negotiations reflected a painful acknowledgment that they lacked the backing to get a vote on such a plan.

The proposed compromise places illegal immigrants into three categories:

Those who have lived in the country at least five years would put on a path to guaranteed citizenship, provided that they remained employed, paid fines and back taxes, and learned English. Negotiators say this group accounts for about 7 million illegal immigrants believed to be living here.

Those who have lived here for two to five years would have to leave the country briefly before reporting to a U.S. port of entry, where they would be classified as temporary workers. They would be allowed to apply for citizenship but would have no guarantee of obtaining it. This group is said to number about 3 million.

The remaining 1 million or so, those who have lived in the country less than two years, would be required to leave. They could apply for temporary worker status but would not be guaranteed it.

Yet the talks, which generated impassioned speeches and partisan attacks on the Senate floor, remained deadlocked over the details late yesterday. And lawmakers warned that if the negotiations collapsed, Congress might fail to take action this year on an issue that has riveted the nation and pushed tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters into the streets for rallies across the country.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who has set a deadline of week's end for a vote on an immigration bill, blamed the Democrats, who refused to allow Republicans to vote on major amendments and have used a parliamentary tactic that will force lawmakers to decide today whether the bill that would legalize nearly all illegal immigrants should be considered for a vote on the floor.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada blamed the Republicans, saying they had continued to "stonewall" by seeking to pass amendments that would gut the broad legalization bill, approved by the Judiciary Committee last week with bipartisan support.

President Bush, who met with Republican congressional leaders yesterday, pressed the Senate to move ahead.

"I strongly urge them to come to a conclusion as quickly as possible and pass a comprehensive bill," Bush said.

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