WASHINGTON – Sidetracked by hurricanes and Supreme Court nominees, the Senate will not take up comprehensive immigration legislation until January, a leading proponent of immigration law reform said Monday.
Sen. John Cornyn (search), R-Texas, also told reporters he did not expect the Senate to vote on immigration legislation that addresses only border control enforcement without considering the issues of illegal aliens already in the country.
"We have to deal with this comprehensively," said Cornyn, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee's immigration, border security and citizenship panel.
GOP leaders in the House and Senate have stressed that immigration reform remains near the top of the legislative agenda, but action has been delayed both by the crisis created by the Gulf Coast hurricanes and differences over what that reform should entail.
President Bush (search) last year expressed support of a guest worker program, but lawmakers are divided over whether people already working in this country illegally should be allowed to stay.
Cornyn and Sen. Jon Kyl (search), R-Ariz., are sponsoring a bill that would require illegal immigrants to return to their home countries before applying for a temporary worker program. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., back a bill that would let illegal immigrants apply for a temporary work visa with the possibility of eventually gaining legal status and citizenship.
On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (search) and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao are to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the administration's initiatives to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, including criminals and terrorists, across the border. Cornyn said he expects the committee to develop a bill around January.
Cornyn said he would be surprised if the administration comes up with definitive proposals to create a guest worker program and would "allow Congress to work its will" on the issue.
Also on Monday, the conservative New York-based Manhattan Institute published the results of a survey showing that likely Republican voters strongly favor comprehensive immigration reform as opposed to an enforcement-only approach.
The poll of 800 registered "likely" Republican voters taken earlier this month found that more than seven out of 10 favored a plan that would increase border security, impose tougher penalties on employers who hire illegal workers and create a temporary worker program that would give temporary workers a multiyear path to citizenship.
Most Republicans, said Manhattan Institute senior fellow Tamar Jacoby, "know that more enforcement alone will not solve the problem."