May 23 2007

2 senators will oppose immigration legislation

The Anniston Star

By Markeshia Ricks

Alabama State senators Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby strongly oppose an immigration bill that would give an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants probationary legal status in the United States.

The legislation has drawn fire from both sides of the aisle since it was introduced last week. Debate is set to continue for the next two weeks.

Congress will recess for the Memorial Day weekend, and Sessions says on his Web site the long holiday will allow senators time to examine the legislation, which he expects to be 800 pages long.

Shelby said he doesn't have a problem with a guest-worker program, but he does have a problem with allowing people to come into the country illegally with impunity.

“My main problem with the bill is that it is built on amnesty,” Shelby said in a Tuesday phone conference with members of the press. “This legislation would embolden people in the future.”

Introduced by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, the proposed bill would allow illegal immigrants probationary legal status, creates a temporary guest-worker program and provides green cards to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens based solely on their family connections.

Shelby said he wants to see legislation that focuses more on securing borders and identifying who is in the country illegally.

The immigration bill in its current form calls for hiring 18,000 new border patrol agents and erecting 200 miles of vehicle barriers and 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Shelby says that's not enough.

“I'm sure there are good things in that bill, but the crux of it I can't support,” he said.

When asked what he would tell the Hispanic and Latino population of Alabama, Shelby said, “I would say that I'm not voting for it because it turns your head on breaking the law. If you want to be a citizen, go home and apply for citizenship legally.”

Sessions, who was unavailable for comment, said in a statement on his Web site that he “will not vote for, and will actively oppose,” the proposed legislation.

According to a transcript of his floor statement Monday, Sessions opposes the legislation on several grounds, citing the burden that it would create for states and the national treasury. He says he supports a merit-based immigration system similar to those of Australia or Canada, which require that immigrants demonstrate certain skills in order to be eligible for citizenship or permanent status. Family connections are not part of the eligibility criteria.

“Supporting an agreement on such a complex and important issue cannot be justified when legislation has not yet been written,” Sessions said. “I will be carefully reading the bill to determine whether the details of the legislation have merit.”

Attempts to reach the Alabama Hispanic Association for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday.