WASHINGTON – A storm of debates has ensued the introduction of a comprehensive immigration reform bill which the Senate began tackling Monday.
The bill, drawn up by a bipartisan group of senators and White House negotiators, offers a process for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country to work legally through a combination of fines, criminal background investigation, English proficiency tests, and paperwork.
"This legislation includes all the elements required for comprehensive immigration reform. It will improve security at our borders," said President Bush during the White House radio address on Saturday. "It will create a temporary worker program. It will help us resolve the status of millions of illegal immigrants who are here already, without animosity and without amnesty.
"And it will honor the great American tradition of the melting pot by strengthening our efforts to help new arrivals assimilate into our society," he added.
However, the proposed bill has come under heavy criticism by opponents who accuse the bill of providing amnesty for millions of lawbreakers through its quick grant of legal status to illegal immigrants.
"The Bush-Senate Z-Amnesty plan is 100-percent amnesty," argues Steve Elliott, president of Grassfire.org, in a statement. "I am personally outraged and we are already hearing from grassroots Americans who feel betrayed by the President and the Senate."
The conservative grassroots organization, which organizes activists supporting traditional and conservative agendas, reports having delivered over 792,000 faxes and petitions to Congress opposing amnesty in a new immigration reform bill.
Recently, the issue of comprehensive immigration reform has gain significant concern among churches nationwide as well as many Christian leaders who have viewed the immigration crisis as not only a political problem but also a biblical and moral dilemma.
Earlier this month, churches in five big U.S. cities announced plans to protect illegal immigrants from deportation by sheltering them in their sanctuary, according to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, prominent evangelical leaders have joined the debate, advocating for a reform that would both protect the borders yet provide a compassionate response to the illegal immigrants already in the country.
"One of the great tragedies of our immigration crisis is that these people have come here illegally. But the difference is that they have come here illegally to work," said Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a March press conference supporting comprehensive immigration reform.
"Whereas our homegrown people who break the law, break the law so they don't have to work," he said, referring to Americans who hire the illegal immigrants.
"These people have come here to work and to become part of the American dream and they are far too often exploited by unscrupulous individual employers and that is not going to end until we have comprehensive immigration reform."
Other Christian leaders who have spoken in support of a new immigration bill include the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and megachurch pastors Joel Osteen, Jack Hayford, and Joel C. Hunter.
The bill, which the Senate began debating on Monday, will not likely pass anytime soon according to a Congress insider.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday he expects the Senate to debate over the immigration bill for at least a few weeks, according to The Associated Press.
Still, the bill's authors have been praised for their effort.
"The bill isn't exactly the way I would have written it, but it is a strong compromise and the best chance we will have to finally fix this broken system," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the lead Democratic negotiator, according to AP. "The price of inaction is too high."