Senate approves immigration bill

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(Host) The U.S. Senate late today gave its approval to a controversial immigration reform bill.

The measure includes a provision to allow several thousand illegal workers who are employed in the state’s dairy industry to stay in this country on a year round basis.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The Senate vote caps several weeks of intense debate. The bill expands enforcement efforts along the Mexican border, it creates a guest worker program, and it establishes a procedure to allow illegal workers to apply for citizenship over a period of time.

Both Vermont senators, Pat Leahy and Jim Jeffords voted for the legislation.

Jeffords says the bill achieves several important goals:

(Jeffords) “It meets three criteria. It establishes a guest worker program with an agricultural provision that will help Vermont farmers and that’s quite important for our farmers. And it addresses the issue of 11 million illegal immigrants that are here now and creates I think a fair program, for that as well as strengthening the border for enforcement, which is always important.”

(Kinzel) Leahy co sponsored a provision that creates special long term visas for illegal workers who are employed on Vermont’s dairy farms. It’s estimated that roughly 2000 people fall into this category:

(Leahy) “Dairy workers for example you have to be there year round it’s not like the apple pickers and others that come to Vermont who are truly seasonal. Even our people working in the ski industry and all, it may be seasonal. This is year round.”

(Kinzel) The House bill makes tougher enforcement its top priority and the plan doesn’t include a guest worker program or a process for citizenship.

Leahy says it’s going to be difficult to reach agreement with the House over these issues.

(Leahy) “The Senate bill talks about the 11 million people and their families and their children and all who are living in the shadows in America – how you bring them out of the shadows. It’s going to be difficult but it’s doable.”

(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders voted against the original House bill. Sanders says he supports comprehensive immigration reform but he does have several concerns:

(Sanders) “How many people are we talking about coming into this country? Who are they? Are they just low paid agricultural workers? Are they going to be engineers and scientists? How long are people who are illegal immigrants, how many years did they have to stay in the United States before they can say, what is the path to citizenship?’ So a whole lot of unanswered questions remain.”

(Kinzel) A House Senate conference committee will now meet in an effort to find a compromise approach to this issue.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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