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THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE - Cornyn loses bid to bar - Houston

Chronicle (TX) - June 7, 2007 - page 1


June 7, 2007 | Houston Chronicle (TX) | MICHELLE MITTELSTADT, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau,
SUSAN CARROLL | Page 1

WASHINGT ON - T he Senate on Wednesday narrowly rebuffed an effort by T exas Sen. John


Cornyn to deny legalization to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants previously ordered
deported from the United States.

In a day of repeated challenges from liberals and conservatives, the bipartisan coalition that
assembled the fragile immigration bill repelled a series of potential deal-killer amendments.

Chief among them was Cornyn's bid to deny legalization to 635,000 people who ignored
deportation orders or returned to the United States after being deported - both felonies.

Averting another threat to the fragile compromise, the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen.
Robert Menendez, D-N.J., that would have added green cards for 833,000 relatives of U.S.
residents. Democrats, who have largely offered a cold shoulder to the bill's plan to reduce the
emphasis on family ties and instead favor highly-skilled immigrants, offered several unsucessful
amendments Wednesday to increase the number of green cards for family members.

By rejecting the Menendez amendment, the Senate essentially endorsed the bill's plan to cut off
the vast majority of foreigners who applied for green cards after May 1, 2005. Instead, senators
approved a far more modest Republican substitute that would provide some relief for people
whose green card applications have a good chance of being accepted within the next 20 years. But
that would leave hundreds of thousands of adult children and siblings of U.S. residents - particularly
from countries such as Mexico and the Philippines - out of the chance for expedited green card
approval if they applied after May 2005.

And late Wednesday night, the Senate turned back an attempt by Democratic presidential hopeful
Barack Obama, D-Ill., to terminate the new merit-based immigration system after five years. ``We
can't weaken the essence of what America is by turning our backs on immigrants who want to
reunite with their family members," Obama said during the debate.

`T his big gaping hole'

Cornyn, a Republican who insisted his amendment would strengthen the bill, took aim at what he
referred to as its "No Felon Left Behind" aspects.

"While we've excluded many categories of felons, we have for some reason left this big gaping
hole when it comes to those who have shown nothing but contempt for our laws," he said.

Democrats siphoned support from Cornyn's amendment, defeated on a 51-46 vote, by offering a
rival version, which passed 66-32. Like Cornyn's, it would deny legalization to gang members, sex
offenders and felony drunken drivers - but would forgive people who had been ordered deported.

Democrats insisted Cornyn's amendment could keep most illegal immigrants from gaining
legalization, because they had previously used fake IDs, and charged it was aimed at derailing the
immigration bill.

"It is a T rojan horse," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Nothing short of an attempt to kill the
whole bill in the guise of tough enforcement."

In a late-night vote, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment by T exas GOP Sen. Kay
Bailey Hutchison to ensure no Social Security credits could be earned for the time a person worked
in illegal status.

With senators under pressure from Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to finish the bill within days,
intense talks continued.

T argeting a visa loophole

Negotiators scrambled to find an acceptable compromise on Hutchison's proposal requiring that


most illegal immigrants return home before obtaining the "Z" visa allowing them to live and work
here legally.

T he proposal would require that the illegal immigrants return home only if they apply for a green
card. So those content to remain here on the indefinitely renewable visas would never have to
return home, which Hutchison and others view as untenable.

High-tech companies intensified their efforts to gain more green cards for skilled immigrants,
lobbying for an amendment by Cornyn and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., that would add 140,000
more employer-sponsored green cards and give business more sway in selecting foreign workers.

Also Wednesday, Cornyn succeeded in lifting a ban on the Department of Homeland Security
sharing with law enforcement certain information regarding the conduct of illegal immigrants
applying for legal status. His measure passed 57-39.

While Cornyn called it a bid to ensure the fraud during the 1986 amnesty is not repeated,
Democrats argued it would discourage illegal immigrants from coming forward.
Copyrig ht 2007 Houston Chronicle