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Update on immigration debate in the Senate

From hashing through various media reports yesterday on immigration legislation, it appears that this week is crucial when it comes to immigration bills forming in the U.S. Senate. As I’ve commented before (here, here and here), this issue is bringing lots of God-talk to the open spaces. As we discuss these issues in terms of Christian responsibility, it is also important that we keep up on what decisions are being proposed at the government level.

(Note: I’m letting you know up front that I’m not that well-acquainted with legislative procedures and I’m not an expert when it comes to the immigration debate, so you’re welcome—make that “strongly urged”—to check this post against other sources. Onward, then.)

A brief background: There are reportedly around 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and, as you’re probably aware by now, the government is trying to figure what to do about the issue. The basic debate seems to be between those who want to provide a “path to legalization” and/or citizenship and those who want to “protect our borders” from terrorism. Sometimes people want to do both. An underlying debate centers on whether these undocumented workers should be here at all (I’ve made my opinion known on this before). At any rate, in the last few months this debate has reached a critical mass, perhaps (it seems to me, anyway) because our legislative bodies are making proposals for crucial laws regarding the issue.

In December, according to various media reports, President Bush asked legislators to form a bill that would include some sort of temporary worker provision. Why? As a CBS report quotes White House spokesman Scott McClellan: "Because what a temporary worker program would do is help relieve pressure on the border. It will allow our law enforcement officials and Border Patrol agents to focus on those who are coming here for the wrong reasons, the criminals and the drug dealers and the terrorists.”

The first major bill to pass in the arena didn’t include this provision. The House formed and passed HR 4437, a bill advanced by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) which would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally and had no provision for worker visas. This is the bill that spawned a growing number (in both amount and mass) of demonstrations across the country. Now the Senate is also coming up with its own versions of immigration bills. The one that seems to be receiving the most media attention is one advanced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) and passed by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee earlier this week. It seems to combine both a path to legalization as well as border protection elements. According to CBS News, the bill “would legalize almost 2 million undocumented immigrants through temporary worker programs and pave the way for their citizenship.” The Washington Post provides more details:

Under the Judiciary Committee bill, illegal immigrants who pay a $1,000 fine and back taxes would be able to apply for a three-year work visa, renewable for a second three-year period. In the fourth year of work, the visa holder could begin a five-year path toward citizenship. A second guest-worker program would open up legal agriculture jobs to 1.5 million undocumented farmworkers.

The measure would also add as many as 14,000 border patrol agents by 2011 to the current force of 11,300 agents and would authorize a "virtual wall" of unmanned vehicles, cameras and sensors to monitor the U.S.-Mexican border.

Unlike the House bill, it would not make illegal immigrants and those who assist them into felons, nor would it authorize the construction of massive new walls along 700 miles of the southern
border.

Apparently, the debate on these and other bills related to immigration began yesterday and continues through this week. My understanding is that voting will occur in the next week or so.

There’s a lot of partisan politics (some driven by the upcoming presidential elections) going on as well. To get a handle on that, read the articles referenced above as well as this one and this one (both from the NY Times and both which focus mostly on Republican division on the issue). If you have the time, read about action happening at the state level as well.

Whatever you read (including articles referenced in this blog), read wisely and with discernment. We all have an agenda (yes, even me). And keep your eye on this. I’m looking for Christian voices in the media and will post their opinions and insights as I find them. (If you run across something, let me know.) Blessings.

(Image: Hey Paul at flikr.com)

Comments

susan britton said…
The wallstreet journal ran a big article today about the rift in the evangelical community re taking sides in this debate, as compared to Catholic, Episcopalian and Jewish clergy who all are lobbying for the senate guest worker bill. (I read this in the paper WSJ--the online version only allows online subscribers so can't link you.)
Article says several evangelical orgs have either delayed taking a stand or have no position--such as Southern Baptist Convention, The National Black Evangelical Asso, James Dobson Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America. The Christian Coalition and The Eagle Forum have come out against.--sb