12 May 2006

US to move forward on immigration bill

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U.S. Senate leaders have agreed a deal to revive an immigration bill that could see millions of illegal immigrants become American citizens.

The agreement breaks a stalemate that has dragged on for months and brings the implementation of a guest-worker programme ever closer to reality.

The Senate bill, introduced earlier this year, included provisions that would provide million of illegal immigrants a chance to get legal status in the United States and work for citizenship after certain requirements were met.

Under the proposal, illegal immigrants who had lived in the United States for five years or more would eventually be granted citizenship, provided they stayed employed, had background checks, paid fines and back taxes and learned English.

Those in the country for two to five years would have to move to a border crossing and apply for a temporary worker visa. They would be eligible for citizenship over time, but would have to wait longer than the first group.

Workers in the country less than two years would be required to leave the country. They could apply for the temporary work programme, but would not be guaranteed positions.

The House of Representatives, on the other hand, passed a bill late last year that called for the building of a security fence on the U.S.-Mexico border and for measures to be passed that would make illegal immigration a felony.

This led to protest marches up and down the United States, culminating in May 1st 'Day without Immigrants' when thousands stayed off work and brought industries to a standstill.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who helped broker the deal with Minority leader Harry Reid, said the Senate would send 26 members, with 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats, to negotiate with the House.

Seven Republicans and five Democrats would come from the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Frist would choose the remaining Republicans, with Reid choosing the remaining Democrats.

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