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Cornyn opposes immigration compromise bill - Austin American-

Statesman (TX) - May 24, 2007 - page A01


May 24, 2007 | Austin American-Statesman (TX) | Eunice Moscoso | Page A01

WASHINGT ON - T he White House is mounting a full-court press for the immig ration overhaul
bill. But Sen. John Cornyn doesn't like it - so far.

T he Republican from T exas, a key negotiator on the bill and an important liaison to the Bush
administration on the issue, has rejected the compromise measure, fearing that it would ''repeat
the mistakes'' of a 1986 amnesty law that failed to curtail illegal immig ration.

''I didn't so much walk away (from the compromise) as got chased away,'' Cornyn said, adding
with a chuckle, ''I'm kind of being facetious.''

T he senator, who leads the Immig ration, Border Security and Citizenship subcommittee, is
hoping to get back on board, provided the bill is substantially changed during debate this week and
the first week of June.

Cornyn introduced an amendment Wednesday that would bar certain criminals, including violent
gang members, sex offenders and repeat drunken drivers, from any chance at legalization, as well
as those who have failed to obey court-ordered deportations. A vote on it is expected today.

T he senator said the amendment is needed to fill loopholes in the overall legislation.

Cornyn also is considering other amendments that would allow the government to share
information from legalization applications to investigate fraud and other crimes, and add a
surcharge on the application fees to reimburse states for years of providing health care and
education to illegal immigrants.

Cornyn said he tried to raise such issues for months during negotiations between key Democratic
and Republican senators and Bush administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

''Some of my concerns were left to the very the end of the negotiations. T hey kept getting pushed
back and pushed off in time,'' he said.

When Cornyn tried to bring them up toward the end of the negotiations, he said Sen. John McCain,
R-Ariz., and others had no patience to discuss them, which led him to abandon the compromise.

Cornyn and McCain had a tense exchange recently that was widely reported in Internet blogs.

T he altercation started when McCain accused Cornyn of trying to thwart the bill. Cornyn told
McCain that he and others had been working for months on the legislation while McCain was away
running for president.

McCain then yelled an obscenity at Cornyn. T he T exan senator said McCain later apologized for
the outburst and that the two are now ''getting along famously'' and that there are ''no hard
feelings.''

Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida who was also a negotiator and who supports the
compromise bill, said Cornyn had been uneasy during the deliberations.

''It was always clear to me that he was on and off, that he wasn't always with us on everything,''
said Martinez, an immigrant from Cuba who heads the Republican National Committee.

But Martinez also said he supported Cornyn's effort to bring up important issues. ''I think he still in
many ways is cooperative, positive and supportive.''

T he legislation that emerged from the negotiations would give most illegal immigrants a fairly
quick probationary legal status. After a process that would take at least eight years, the
immigrants could apply to be legal permanent residents and eventually citizens if they pay fines,
pass a criminal background check and learn English.

Heads of households would have to return to their home countries as part of the legalization
process.

In addition, the bill would create a temporary worker program for up to 600,000 foreign workers to
come to the United States for two years at a time. However, senators approved an amendment
Wednesday by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., that cut the temporary worker program to 200,000
workers.

As a concession to Republican negotiators, the legalization and guest worker programs would not
take effect until several security measures are in place, including adding thousands of Border
Patrol agents and building more fencing along the southern border.

T he bill has been criticized on all sides, with some conservatives calling it amnesty and immigrant
groups objecting to provisions that would reduce the emphasis of family ties in immig ration law in
favor of a merit-based system that gives points for education, work skills and other factors.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-T exas, who also participated in the negotiations and opposed the
compromise bill, is planning to offer two amendments.

T he first would require illegal immigrants to return to their home countries to apply for legal
status, including the initial probationary permit. Under the current proposal, that requirement only
applies to heads of households seeking green cards and a path to citizenship. Others in the United
Stats unlawfully could obtain visas to live and work here indefinitely without returning home.

T he second amendment would make sure that illegal immigrants do not receive credit toward
Social Security benefits for the time they were in the United States illegally.
''With its long-term solvency in question, it is important that credit be given only to those who earn
their benefits legally,'' she said.

T he White House is aggressively pushing the immig ration bill, with daily statements and press
releases, including some that detail ''myths versus facts'' on the legislation. Chertoff and Gutierrez
have been making the rounds on T V talk shows defending the measure.

Despite the push, Cornyn said no one is twisting his arm to support the legislation.

''I was just over at the White House this morning and I didn't feel any pressure,'' he said T uesday.

emoscoso@coxnews.com

Additional material from T he Associated Press.

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