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Senate nears immigration overhaul

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In recent weeks, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez have been working with a dozen Republicans and, later, a half-dozen Democratic senators to hammer out a plan that could pass muster on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Senators say it would include funding for border fencing for major metropolitan areas, 6,000 additional border patrol agents, stronger sanctions against employers who hire undocumented workers, and a more secure worker-identification system.

In addition, they are considering new ways to prioritize immigrants seeking legal status, including a point system that favors a person's education and job skills over family ties. Such a system could break a cycle of chain migration that favors low-skilled workers.

In the last Congress, the House and Senate each passed immigration-reform bills. The House version focused on border security and workplace enforcement. The Senate bill included a path to citizenship for most of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. Opposition to the Senate bill in the GOP-controlled House was so strong that the bill never even went to conference to resolve differences.

With Democrats now controlling both the House and Senate – and with President Bush still committed to a comprehensive bill – prospects for immigration-reform legislation seemed to brighten.

But many of the 23 Senate Republicans who voted for immigration reform in 2006 say they will not again support that bill if Reid brings it to the floor Tuesday, as he has promised.

"We all recognize that that bill is imperfect. But it is a place that we're going to start," Reid said Wednesday.

"Democrats are committed to immigration laws that strike the right balance between protecting our security, strengthening our economy, and enacting laws that uphold the humanity and dignity of those who come here seeking a better life," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, a lead negotiator.

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