"Georgia Reps.: Immigration Fight Ahead"
May 26, 2006 -
The following story was published by WXIA 11 Alive TV Reporter Denis O'Hayer:
Now that House leaders have rejected the immigration bill the Senate passed Thursday, the search is on for a compromise (see related story). Two House members from Georgia -- one Democrat and one Republican --say it won't be easy.
The Senate measure includes a guest worker program, a path to citizenship, and stepped-up border security. But, House leaders have already dismissed the Senate bill and Georgia Democrat David Scott and Republican Lynn Westmoreland agree it's D.O.A. "That Senate bill has no chance of passing the House," said Westmoreland.
Westmoreland and Scott both said the Senate bill opens the path to citizenship even as we're still trying to secure the borders. They both called that the wrong approach. "First and foremost, we need to secure these borders," Scott said. Both men said nothing should happen on guest worker programs or citizenship until a border plan is in place.
But doing that is tough and the two Congressmen disagree on how to start. Scott wants thousands of regular military people on the Mexican and Canadian borders. He said, "If we could get 20- to 30,000 Marines on that border immediately, everybody will know we're serious."
Westmoreland said high-tech surveillance and the National Guard could do it. He recalled his trip a year ago to the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite the rugged terrain, he said that border was closely monitored with electronic surveillance and unmanned planes. He said if we can do that there, we can do it on our own borders.
"We do need to put up some of these barriers and some of these fences in the well-traveled areas," said Westmoreland. "But in these other areas, I think we can control it electronically." He opposed the use of regular military forces, saying more border patrol officers and the 6,000 National Guard members offered by President Bush should be enough.
While both Congressmen have big problems with the Senate bill, Scott also objects to part of the earlier and tougher bill passed by the House. "The business in the bill, in the House bill, about making the illegal immigrants felons, is wrong," Scott said. "We've got to take that out."
Westmoreland thinks Scott will get his wish. "I think that (the felony provision) was just a message that was to be delivered to the Senate that that was how seriously we felt with people being in this country illegally," Westmoreland said. "So, I think that will be something that will be negotiated out."
Both expect President Bush to get involved in the House-Senate negotiations. Westmoreland said he'll have to get involved, if the House is going to budge at all.
And both expect the final compromise will include some kind of guest worker program. But Westmoreland opposes any easy road to citizenship, which he considers amnesty for illegal behavior. He said it's also unfair.
"We cannot allow the people that have come into this country illegally to get in line in front of the people that have been waiting in their countries of origin for up to ten years," Westmoreland said.
Scott sympathizes, but said it won't be easy to separate a guest worker program from some kind of path to citizenship. "They're here for two, three, four or five years and you say go back?" Scott asked. "What are they going to do in three to four (years)? You don't think they're gonna have three or four children here? And you don't think those children are gonna be American citizens?"
Both Scott and Westmoreland are keenly aware their constituents want something done -- and quickly. They agree with House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, who said lawmakers must produce a compromise bill by Election Day, so the voters can grade them on what they did.
11Alive's Dennis O'Hayer asked Westmoreland if he thought there will be a price for incumbents to pay at the polls if they don't finish work on a bill. "There should be," he said. "There should be."
When O'Hayer asked Scott if he had any odds on getting something done by Election Day, he replied, "I think right now I would say about 50-50."
House and Senate leaders could form a conference committee or the House might try a brand-new bill. Both Scott and Westmoreland admit that for all the rhetoric on all sides this issue is very difficult and complicated.