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Kyl Adds Detail About Elements of an Acceptable Immigration Bill

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who has been working with the White House on an immigration overhaul, outlined specifics Tuesday for a bill he could accept and that he hopes will appeal to a broad swath of Congressional Republicans.

During the last Congress, Kyl, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was among the Republicans who advocated a more enforcement-oriented approach to an immigration overhaul and opposed what he termed “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

Now, though, Kyl told reporters that he would be willing to support a phased process in which implementation of certain policies could take place over a period of time.

For instance, a bill might include as first steps the implementation of border security measures, of an employee-screening process tougher than in competing legislation and of a guest-worker program with no path to citizenship. Such a bill could defer action on how the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country would be treated going forward.

“It could well end up being a staged process,” Kyl told reporters.

Kyl said that GOP lawmakers have been in talks with the White House and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. He offered few specifics about those meetings, but he noted that at least three proposals were on the table for verifying worker eligibility, and those could involve unique identification such as counterfeit-resistant driver’s licenses or Social Security cards.

In the meantime, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a leading player in the Congressional immigration debate, has put distance between himself and a bipartisan discussion group that included the White House and now plans instead to revive legislation from the last Congress.

Laura Capps, a spokeswoman for Kennedy, said the Massachusetts Senator “thinks it’s a faster way to go. The new plan will give Senators a familiar starting point. It’s what people already know.”

The bill that Kennedy will now return to proposes steps for illegal immigrants who had been working or studying in the United States since January 2004 to become citizens. It also outlines the terms of guest worker program that allows foreigners to apply for citizenship after working legally in the U.S. for four years.

The measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year but was revised before going to the floor. Ultimately, the 109th Congress failed to pass any immigration overhaul.

Kennedy has been part of a group that includes the White House, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that has been working on producing a “discussion draft” that would seek consensus on the divisive issue.

Kennedy hasn’t yet decided how to reintroduce the legislation from the last Congress. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee subcommittee on immigration, border security and citizenship, Kennedy could bring up the bill in his subcommittee.

“It isn’t clear when it would be introduced or if it would be a chairman’s mark, there are lots of options,” Capps said.

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