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Senators oppose Bush on illegals
Sessions, Shelby critics of immigration legislation

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush may yet steer a landmark immigration bill through Congress this year, but he isn’t getting any help from Alabama’s congressional delegation.

Republican Sens. Richard Shelby of Tuscaloosa and Jeff Sessions of Mobile have been among the most outspoken critics of the White House-backed compromise under debate in the Senate, attacking the bill as amnesty and pledging to vote against it.

The state’s mostly Republican House delegation has been similarly hostile. Only one member, Democratic Rep. Artur Davis of Birmingham, isn’t openly opposed to it, and even he is reserving judgment, saying he is “troubled” by parts of the package.

“If people think this is going to solve our immigration problems, they’d better think again,” Shelby said in an interview Wednesday as the Senate voted on a series of amendments to the legislation.

The proposal, which has created an unusual alliance between Republicans like Bush and Democrats such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, would tighten border security while creating a process for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status.

Critics on the right, including Alabama’s Republicans, say it rewards lawbreakers, while some Democrats say it is too burdensome and would disrupt families.

Many Republicans who support the package say it represents the best possible compromise and is better than allowing the current broken system to continue.

“This is as good as Republicans can get,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “The consequence of doing nothing is disastrous.”

Sessions, who said he has offered about two dozen amendments to the bill, disagreed.

“I don’t think it’s better than enforcing our current laws,” said Sessions, who is up for re-election next year. “I think the American people will be more likely to get a lawful system of immigration if we say no to this bill.”

Wanting all to leave

Shelby, the state’s senior lawmaker, said he would support legislation only if it requires all of the estimated 12 million immigrants in the country illegally to leave.

“We’re a nation of laws, supposed to be,” he said.

Shelby and others said they had heard from business interests, particularly in agriculture and construction, who support the compromise because of their dependency on immigrant workers. A group called Alabama Employers for Immigration Reform has been lobbying behind the bill in Washington.

But they said most constituents they hear from want a different approach.

“I personally don’t believe we should reward people who have come into this country illegally with a fast-track path to citizenship,” Rep. Jo Bonner of Mobile said in his weekly radio address over the weekend. “A lot of our calls coming in from South Alabama are saying the same thing.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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