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Sen. Republicans Negotiate Compromise On Immigration

By Rachel L. Swarns


A group of Senate Republicans reached agreement on Wednesday night on a compromise proposal that they hope can garner bipartisan support and bring passage of a bill on the future of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.

The compromise, which followed a day of negotiations, was endorsed by Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader. But it did not have the commitment of all Republicans, much less Democrats who have backed an approach that would guarantee nearly all illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship.

As outlined by Senate Republicans late Wednesday, the compromise would place illegal immigrants in three categories:

— Those who have lived in the country at least five years would be put on a path toward guaranteed citizenship, provided that they remained employed, paid fines and back taxes, and learned English, a senior Republican aide said. The aide said this group accounted for about 7 million of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants believed to be living here.

— Those who have lived here for two to five years, said to number about three million, 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. Those who did not would have to leave after participating in the temporary worker program for six years.

— 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.

Senators of both parties and their aides huddled in meetings throughout the day, trying to hash out a deal by week’s end, the deadline set by Frist for a vote on an immigration bill. For the first time, senior Democrats, including Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, joined in the negotiations, an acknowledgment that they lacked the backing to get a vote on broader legalization.

The Senate will decide Friday whether the compromise should be considered for a vote. But lawmakers, who gave impassioned partisan speeches on the floor, remained deadlocked over its details late Wednesday. Senators 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.

Frist blamed the stalemate on Democrats, who refused to allow Republicans to vote on major amendments and have used a parliamentary tactic that will force lawmakers to decide Thursday whether the bill more favorable to illegal immigrants should be considered for a floor vote.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, 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.