Clinton vows to block bill criminalizing illegal immigrants
NEW YORK -- Invoking Biblical themes, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined immigration advocates Wednesday to vow and block legislation seeking to criminalize undocumented immigrants.
Clinton, a potential 2008 presidential candidate and relative latecomer to the immigration debate, made her remarks as the Senate prepares to take up the matter next week.
Clinton renewed her pledge to oppose a bill passed in December by the House that would make unlawful presence in the United States _ currently a civil offense _ a felony. The Senate is set to consider a version of that legislation, as well as several other bills seeking to address the seemingly intractable issue of immigration reform.
Surrounded by a multicultural coalition of New York immigration advocates, Clinton blasted the House bill as "mean-spirited" and said it flew in the face of Republicans' stated support for faith and values.
"It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures," Clinton said, "because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself."
Clinton did not specifically endorse any competing legislation, including a bill co-authored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and another by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), saying she hoped the Senate Judiciary Committee would produce a compromise incorporating the best elements of all the bills and would remove the harsh penalties contained in the House measure.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has said the Senate will take up his proposal to tighten borders and punish employers who hire illegal immigrants if the Judiciary Committee doesn't complete a broader bill by next week.
Among other things, Clinton said she would support legislation that would strengthen U.S. borders, boost technology to secure the borders, and seek greater cross-border cooperation with Mexico and other neighboring countries.
She also called for new enforcement laws, including penalties for employers who exploit illegal immigrants, as well as a system to allow the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States to earn their citizenship.
Clinton expressed sympathy to representatives of communities along the U.S.-Mexico border that are frustrated by the stress of providing social services to large numbers of undocumented immigrants. But she also said she hoped to send a message that supporters of punitive immigration policy faced significant political risk for doing so.
"We want the outcome to be that they're on the wrong side of the politics as well as the wrong side of history and American values," she said.
President Bush has argued for a guest worker program that would allow undocumented immigrants already in the United States to keep their jobs for up to six years. The effort hasn't gained much momentum, partly due to fierce resistance from others within the GOP.