WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate approved immigration reform legislation May 25, setting the stage for negotiations with a House of Representatives that differs dramatically on some aspects of the controversial issue.
Senators voted 62-36 for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, S. 2611. Twenty-three Republicans joined 38 Democrats and an independent in support of the bill. Four Democrats voted with 32 GOP members to oppose it.
The immigration issue has gained a high profile this year. It is estimated about 12 million immigrants are in the United States illegally, and many of them marched in demonstrations in recent months seeking reform that would aid their cause.
A conference committee, consisting of members from both houses, will work toward reconciling differences in the bill passed by the Senate and a measure approved by the House in December in order to frame a conference report for final passage.
The House version, which has received strong criticism from Hispanic leaders and Senate Democrats, concentrates on border security and enforcement against illegal immigrants and those who aid them. The Senate version includes provisions intended to secure the border with Mexico but also would establish a guest-worker program and enable most illegal immigrants to enter a process to become citizens.
“The situation that we now have is one in which both the House and Senate have passed immigration bills that have serious, perhaps fatal, flaws,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Either one taken by itself would fail in profound ways to address the immigration crisis our nation faces.
“We need to pray that the House and Senate conferees will address those serious flaws and come forward with a conference report, i.e., a compromise bill that will combine the strongest aspects of both the House and Senate bills,” Land told Baptist Press, “and eliminate or strengthen the weaknesses of both houses’ versions that have currently been passed.”
In a group meeting in March at the White House, Land told President Bush the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists want the border secured. Land said those Southern Baptists would likely support a guest-worker program that does not provide amnesty if they believe the government will work to control the border. He also said such a proposal should not allow illegal immigrants to move ahead of those who have entered the country legally.
Some proponents of the House-approved measure, however, have described the Senate bill as providing amnesty to illegal immigrants.
The Republican senators from the border state of Arizona demonstrated the sharp differences over immigration reform in their reactions to the Senate-passed bill.
“The Senate has approved a bill that is critically flawed and doesn’t go far enough to secure our borders and strengthen the rule of law,” Sen. Jon Kyl said in a written statement. “This bill seems to put the interest of immigrants before American workers and those waiting patiently in line to legally immigrate here.”
Sen. John McCain said on the floor that the Senate had “conducted good work” on the bill. “The new policies as provided for under this legislation will increase border security and provide for a new, temporary worker program to enable foreign workers to work legally in this country when there are jobs that American workers won’t fill,” he said. “And it will acknowledge and address in a humanitarian and compassionate way the current undocumented population.”