Leahy hopeful on passing of immigration bill

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says he’s hopeful that the U.S. Senate will pass a comprehensive immigration bill in the near future.

Leahy says President Bush’s leadership on this issue will play a critical role in determining if the bill is going to become law.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) For the past few weeks, a debate over the future of U.S. immigration policies has been raging in the United States Senate.

It’s estimated that there are roughly 12 million people who are living in this country illegally and the number has been steadily growing.

On one side of the debate is a group of mostly Republican senators, many from border states, who want tougher enforcement programs to be the centerpiece of the legislation.

They don’t want to discuss amnesty programs for illegal workers until stronger steps have been taken to help seal the U.S./Mexico border.

On the other side is a bipartisan group of senators who are pushing for a package of reforms that would include a guest worker plan, an amnesty program, and additional law enforcement efforts.

President Bush supports the work of the bipartisan group and met with them this week to rally support for their bill.

Senator Leahy, who’s the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary committee, was part of the group that met with the President.

(Leahy) “I think we could find a compromise on immigration. It’s not going to be an enforcement only bill. It’s not an amnesty bill. But we could have something that faces the reality of 11 or 12 million illegals in the United States now – have a way where they can earn citizenship but they don’t have to live in the shadows and they won’t be exploited the way many of them are now being exploited.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says the President has a very important role to play in the coming weeks:

(Leahy) “I think he has to made it very clear that an enforcement bill alone has no chance of passing. We are not going to criminalize people who run shelters for battered women or run food banks or religious groups that help children. We’re not going to suddenly criminalize them for helping somebody who’s in this country illegally.”

(Kinzel) It’s estimated that at least 2000 illegal workers are employed in Vermont’s agriculture industry. Leahy wants to include a provision in the bill that will make it possible for many of these workers to stay in the state and work towards becoming U.S. citizens.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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