Key U.S. Senators Reach Bipartisan Agreement on Immigration

Washington – Key Senate Republicans and Democrats have hammered out a plan that would provide undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship.

“This plan isn’t perfect but it is a strong agreement and a good solution,” Senator Edward Kennedy, standing alongside a bipartisan group of senators, told reporters May 17.  Kennedy said the accord takes into account family ties, refugees who need asylum, and the demand for different types of jobs, both low and high skilled.

Immediately following the announcement, President Bush signaled his support and applauded the senators for their leadership on the issue.  Immigration reform has been one of the president’s top priorities since entering office more than six years ago.

Many details of the plan still need to be worked out; legislation has to be written and passed by both houses of Congress, and eventually signed by the president.  However, the deal appears to meet criteria Bush repeatedly has set for comprehensive immigration reform.  Top administration officials worked closely with senators to come up with the current accord.

“This proposal delivers an immigration system that is secure, productive, orderly and fair,” Bush said.

“The plan would bring undocumented workers already in this country out of the shadows without amnesty and without animosity,” he said.  “It would require workers to pay a meaningful penalty, learn English, pay their taxes, and pass a background check before they can be considered for legalized status.  If they achieve this legalized status and decide they want to apply for a green card, they must return home to file an application in order to get in line behind all of those who have played by the rules and followed the law.”

“Our immigration system is badly in need of reform,” Bush said.

Estimates have put the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at 11 million to 12 million.

Bush said that the new Senate deal sets goals in addressing border security and enhancing enforcement of appropriate hiring practices in the workplace.

“Once those goals are met, the plan would create a temporary worker program to address the needs of our growing economy and take pressure off the border by allowing workers to come to this country for a short period of time and fill jobs Americans are not doing.  For immigrants wishing to come to our country permanently in the future, it would also establish a new merit-based system, which takes into account job skills, education, English proficiency and family ties.”

Acknowledging the concerns of some in his own party regarding the country’s capacity to assimilate large numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants, Bush reaffirmed the image of the United States as a “melting pot.”

“We must continue to help immigrants assimilate into our society,” he said, explaining that the Senate proposal would affirm English as the language of the United States and direct the Department of Education to make English instruction freely available over the Internet.

Latinos are expected to grow from 13.2 percent of the U.S. population in 2000 to 22.5 percent by the year 2030, according to the Latino National Survey, the most complete snapshot of the U.S. Latino population to date. Almost 92 percent of Latinos say it is very important to learn English, and almost another 7 percent say it is somewhat important, according to the survey, which also found that Latinos are following assimilation patterns not much different from other earlier immigrant groups. (See related article.)

“Convictions run deep on the matter of immigration, but with this bipartisan agreement, I am confident leaders in Washington can have a serious, civil and conclusive debate so I can sign comprehensive reform into law this year,” the president said, urging members of both parties to support the proposal.

Both political parties in the United States have internal divisions on immigration reform policy. Currently, the U.S. Senate is controlled by the Democrats by one vote. In the Senate, a simple majority – 51 votes or more – is needed to pass legislation. But opponents can block consideration by prolonging debate unless at least 60 votes are obtained to limit debate and bring the legislation to a vote.

In the House, Democrats have a majority, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will not bring the issue to a vote unless at least 70 Republicans signal their support for the bill.

For the president’s most recent statements on the subject, see Comprehensive Immigration Reform on the White House Web site. The full text of the president’s statement on the Senate agreement also is available on the White House Web site.

The full text of Kennedy’s statement is available on his Senate Web site.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Visas and Immigration.