WASHINGTON — A far-reaching new immigration bill is getting its first test at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where opponents of the legislation will be able to face off with its authors.
The committee's members include Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and three other lawmakers who sponsored the bill to boost border security, fix legal immigration programs and eventually grant citizenship to some 11 million people here illegally. The panel also includes leading skeptics of the legislation, including Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
The 844-page legislation was introduced around 2 a.m. Wednesday, so critics say there has been insufficient time to digest it and are pushing for more hearings and a long review process. Friday's hearing will be the first of two the Judiciary Committee is expected to hold on the bill before it begins amending and voting on it next month.
"We're on the beginning of a process we think must be done. We can't have 11 million people living in the shadows forever in this country," Sen. John McCain, another of the bill's sponsors, said Friday.
"And obviously, people who came to this country illegally should pay a penalty — but not forever. And they should pay back taxes, and they should pay a fine. We should make sure that they get in line behind everybody else. But this issue has to be resolved," McCain, R-Ariz., said on CBS "This Morning."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been invited to testify, and she's sure to face tough questions from Sessions and other Republicans on conditions along the border, which the Obama administration says is more secure than ever.
Some Republicans disagree and also contend the immigration bill doesn't do enough to improve border security, even though it requires certain enforcement steps to be taken before any path to citizenship can begin.
Napolitano in the past has criticized the idea of border enforcement "triggers" as a condition to a path to citizenship, putting the Obama administration at odds with the bipartisan Senate plan. But President Barack Obama praised the legislation when it was released this week.
A second panel of witnesses was to include Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a conservative-leaning economist and former McCain adviser who's argued that immigration brings economic benefits to the U.S.; and Peter Kirsanow, a Republican member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission who's said that illegal immigration reduces wages and eliminates jobs for low-skilled American workers.
Senate Judiciary Committee: http://www.judiciary.senate.gov