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Immigration reform issue will take Senate spotlight Print E-mail
Debate is likely on measures that may soften tough House measure

Copyright 2006 Hearst News Service

WASHINGTON - When Congress returns to work later this month, one of the first items on the agenda will be tougher immigration laws.

The House has passed its version of an immigration bill that focuses on making it more difficult to sneak into the U.S. by requiring more inspectors and patrol dogs at the nation's ports of entry, making it easier to deport immigrants who commit some crimes, and forcing the government to detain illegal immigrants captured near the border until they can be returned to their home countries.

The issue now moves to the Senate, where a debate is expected over whether to soften the get-tough House bill by adding a program to give more foreigners a shot at temporary, legal work in the United States.

Flood of immigrants
So far, the debate has been propelled by foes of illegal immigration, who say that too little has been done to bolster the nation's borders and ports of entry. They argue passionately that illegal immigrants are flowing largely unchecked into the United States. There are an estimated 10 million to 12 million undocumented workers inside the United States.

To Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., one of Congress' biggest proponents of cracking down on illegal immigration, the problem is tantamount to "a raging river."

"It's flowing downstream, and periodically, you drop a boulder in," he said. "But water just flows around the boulders."

To stop the water — and the tide of illegal immigration — Tancredo says, "you have to build a real dam." And so far, he argues, the federal government is falling short.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, argues that the nation's immigration system is "broken" and that Congress needs to embark on a top-to-bottom overhaul.

"Our national security requires a comprehensive, long-term solution," he said.

"Comprehensive" is a catch-word for proposals to create some kind of guest worker program, in addition to border security.

President Bush has called for a new, temporary visa for foreigners that would allow them to take jobs U.S. employers have trouble filling with Americans.

Recent changes
The federal government has recently taken steps to make it harder for immigrants to sneak into the country illegally and to make life harder for those who get here.

For instance, in the past year:

•Congress made it tougher to apply for asylum in the United States. Under the new law, judges have broad latitude to assess the credibility of asylum applicants by studying their demeanor and responsiveness, as well as whether their past statements are consistent. Supporters said the change was needed to keep terrorists from trying to slip into the country by exploiting the asylum system.
•Immigration judges were empowered to block foreigners from entering the U.S. if they have been engaged in terrorist activity or received military-type training from terrorist groups. Congress also broadened the definition of "terrorist activities" to cover such actions as fundraising and recruiting members for terrorist groups.
•Last April, the government bailed out hotels, fisheries and other companies that thrive in the summer months and have long relied on foreign workers to fill seasonal jobs. The government caps the number of temporary workers who can enter the United States for such seasonal jobs at 66,000 annually. But that number was reached last January, leaving businesses scrambling to find workers. Congress temporarily exempted foreigners who held the visas anytime in the past three years from the annual limit.
•Last October, Congress gave the Homeland Security Department money to add 1,000 people to the border patrol, boosting the number of agents to 12,000.
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