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Immigration bill's prospects seem dim

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By Gannett News Service
Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

WASHINGTON - A leading congressional advocate for immigrants' rights introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow millions of illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens and would end a controversial program that enlists local police to enforce immigration laws.

The 700-page bill by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., is widely viewed as too liberal to pass.

Obama administration officials have said they are looking instead to a more moderate, bipartisan immigration reform bill to be introduced in the Senate early next year by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Still, Gutierrez made it clear that he and his allies expect a seat at the negotiating table as lawmakers and the White House seek middle ground on the polarizing issue.

Gutierrez's bill, endorsed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus and Asian Pacific American Caucus, would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country while they apply to become legal residents or citizens. They would have to pay a $500 fine and show they've made a contribution to the country through work, education, military or community service.

The legislation also would repeal the 287(g) program, which enlists local police and sheriff's deputies to enforce federal immigration law. The bill says only the federal government has the authority to enforce those laws.

It also includes a provision that would allow states to offer in-state school tuition to students who aren't citizens and whose parents may be in the country illegally.

The bill acknowledges that strong border security is needed, but it also calls for increased oversight of border control agents to ensure civil liberties are protected.

"As a candidate for president, Barack Obama promised comprehensive immigration reform, and we have brought him the bill to accomplish this," Gutierrez said.

Opponents of the bill said they're angry the bill offers amnesty to millions of illegal workers while so many citizens are out of work.

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