By Attorneys Robert Reeves and Jeremiah Johnson

The Senate prides itself for being known as the greatest deliberative body in the world, and true to form the debate continues. The Senate Judiciary committee met Senator Frist’s Monday deadline, and now the full Senate gets to weigh in on the competing bills with a vote likely happening next Thursday. Although it is still too early to predict what proposals, if any, will eventually make it to law, here are some of the competing points.

The Senate’s “starting point’ for debate is Senator Frist’s bill. His proposal, the “Securing America’s Border Act,” provides for an increase in border patrol agents, construction of border fencing, expansion of detention power, broadening the category of “aggravated felons,” creates new criminal penalties for immigration related offenses, and stripping courts of jurisdiction to review. The bill does attempt to address the visa backlog and increase visas available for student and aliens with advance degrees.

By comparison, the Judiciary Committee’s bill combines immigration enforcement with immigration reform. Although the bill has some troubling provisions, the Senate Judiciary should be applauded in their recognition that an enforcement only approach is not an acceptable solution. Perhaps the most encouraging proposal came with the inclusion of the McCain/Kennedy Earned Adjustment Program providing an opportunity for undocumented aliens to apply for citizenship after a long wait with steady employment and payment of a fine. Senator Graham correctly framed the issue recognizing that people’s “home” is where they raised their kids and lived their lives – that is to say here in the United States. The specifics of these proposals are still being worked out, and until more details are worked out and a Bill passes, undocumented immigrants and employers must wait to see exactly how these proposals will affect them.

Even if the Senate reaches a decision, any version must be reconciled with the House enforcement only bill, known as “HR 4437.” Despite the daily coverage in the news and the White House’s involvement, there remains a real possibility that the two versions could be irreconcilable, and immigration reform may have to wait for a change in the political climate which may be brought about by the November 2006 elections. However, it appears that even the anti immigrant representatives in the House realize the government just cannot deport 12-20 million undocumented aliens. We believe that there will be some form of relief for undocumented aliens in the near future.

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