May 23 2007

Senate retains guest-worker program in bill: Would let short-term workers in country

The Birmingham News

By ROBERT PEAR and MICHAEL LUO

WASHINGTON - A comprehensive immigration bill survived a significant test Tuesday as the Senate voted to keep a provision that would let hundreds of thousands of temporary foreign workers enter the country each year.

If the guest-worker program, part of the "grand bargain" negotiated with the Bush administration by a bipartisan group of 12 senators, had been stripped from the bill, the fragile deal could have collapsed.

Despite the vote Tuesday, supporters of the bill were clearly on the defensive.

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who helped write the bill, said eliminating the guest-worker program would be a "huge problem" for the architects of the proposal.

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the chief Republican architect of the bill, said public opinion on the measure was being shaped by "misconceptions, misunderstandings and misinformation."

Kyl said he received a mixed reception Tuesday when he described the bill at a meeting of House Republicans.

"A lot of them are pretty skeptical," Kyl said.

Senators of both parties said their offices had been flooded with telephone calls from constituents criticizing a provision of the bill that would offer legal status to most of the 12 million illegal immigrants.

Alabama's Republican Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions voted to keep the proposed program in the bill.