The Senate took up the job of tightening U.S. borders against illegal immigrants while also allowing those already in the United States to stay as low-wage workers for American businesses.
The effort pits two Republican bases in an election-year fight against each other social conservatives, who want the government to take a harder line against illegal immigrants; and employers, who want immigrants in the country as cheap labor.
"I have seen virtually no agreement on anything. Emotions are at an all-time high," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said, opening the first of several meetings by his panel for writing a bill.
Specter said he hoped his committee could have legislation ready by the end of March.
The House of Representatives passed a border security bill last year, which pleased conservatives clamoring for an immigration crackdown. That came, however, only after House leaders beat back an attempt by some Republican members to include President Bush's proposal for a program giving illegal immigrants already here temporary worker status.
In contrast, the Senate is wading right into the difficult and politically sensitive guest worker issue.
Specter said a solution is needed for the problem of 11 million illegal immigrants "in the shadows" of the country.
"Our first job is to bring them out of the shadows, and that is a very big job," he said.
He acknowledged some Republicans want all illegal immigrants sent home, but said that if illegal immigrants know they will be kicked out when they "show up," then they will not come out of the shadows.
He also said he does not object to providing a tract to legalization for immigrants who work in the country as proposed by Sens. John McCain and Edward M. Kennedy. But, Specter added: "The political reality is that is going to be very difficult to do," reports AP.
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