21 June 2006

House derails US immigration reforms

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A major overhaul of America's immigration laws now appears 'highly unlikely' to happen this year, after Republican leaders in the House of Representatives announced plans to hold public meetings on the proposed reforms.

President Bush has made the Immigration Reform bill his domestic priority ahead of the forthcoming Congress elections but the legislation appears to be a victim of election-year concerns in the House and conservatives’ opposition to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

Republican speaker Dennis Hastert announced plans to hold public hearings around the country beginning in August, before the house would seek to thrash out a compromise bill.

"We are going to listen to the American people, and we are going to get a bill that is right," he said.

Immigration has become an emotive issue over the past few months; an earlier House bill that sought to criminalise illegal immigrants saw mass protests on the streets, whilst anti-reform groups have grown more determined to close the border.

Included in the Senate bill are plans that would enable millions of 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.

There is also provision in the bill for the creation of a special guest worker program for an estimated 1.5 million immigrant farm workers, who could also earn legal permanent residency.

The new proposals would also provide up to 325,000 temporary visas a year for future workers, with additional visas possible based on labor market demands. New ID cards for legal foreign workers, to include biometric technology, would allow employers to verify they were hiring legal workers.

Despite the House set-back, the Bush administration remains hopeful that the Immigration Reform Bill can be worked out and passed this year.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: “The president is undeterred. We are committed, and we have been working very hard with members of Congress to see if we can reach consensus on an issue the American people have said they want action on.”


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