The Senate passed a major immigration-reform bill, putting the Senate at odds with the House. The Senate bill would double border agents, increase immigration and customs enforcement officers, create a special guest-worker program for 1.5-million immigrant farm workers, and establish an employee-verification system for newly hired employees.

The major difference between the House- and Senate-passed bills is the Senate version allows a means for illegals to become citizens:

  • Illegals in the U.S. 5 years or more could remain, continue working and eventually become legal permanent residents and citizens after paying at least $3,250 in fines and fees, paying back taxes and learning English.
  • Illegals in the U.S. 2-5 years would have to go to a point of entry at the border and file an application to return.
  • Illegals in the U.S. for less than 2 years would have to leave.
A number of ag organizations support the Senate bill. The American Farm Bureau Federation says, without comprehensive immigration reform, U.S. ag risks losing $5 billion to $9 billion/year in lost fruit and vegetable production. It also contends net-farm income could fall by up to $5 billion/year.

The legislation now goes before a House-Senate conference committee expected to be very contentious. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), House Judiciary Committee chairman, calls the Senate bill a "non-starter."
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent