A bipartisan group of senators has proposed sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration laws. The Senate bill calls for increased security on the U.S.-Mexican border, the hiring of 18,000 more border agents and new requirements for employers to check the immigration status of employees. The bill would also allow undocumented immigrants living in the United States to continue to work here if they fulfill a number of requirements including paying a $5,000 fine and getting a biometric identification card. The bill would also set up a point system to determine who merits a new type of work visa. Details about the point system are still being negotiated, but the White House has suggested immigrants should be able to earn points by serving in the U.S. military. The Senate proposal would also allow up to 600,000 temporary workers to come to the United States each year. Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts spoke at a press conference Thursday announcing the bill.
Sen. Edward Kennedy: “This plan isn’t perfect, but it’s a strong bill. And it is a worthy solution. Only a bipartisan bill will become law, and I believe we owe it to the American people to stop talking about immigration and start acting. We all owe it to them to solve this crisis in a way that upholds our humanity and our tradition of a nation of immigrants.”
Several Republicans — including President Bush — voiced support for the deal.
Many immigrant rights advocates have expressed concern over the Senate bill. Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra of California said the proposal would create a permanent underclass of immigrant workers. He also criticized the bill because it marks a major departure from the country’s historic policy of giving preference to family members of immigrants already living in the U.S. Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey criticized the plan for the “prohibitive” fees that immigrants must pay to gain legal status. Several Republicans condemned the bill, saying it gives amnesty to undocumented immigrants.
Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have killed at least 10 Palestinians over the past 24 hours. In the biggest raid, an Israeli bomb destroyed a two-story building belonging to Hamas. The bomb killed two members of Hamas and wounded 45 people, including civilians who were buried in the rubble. Five more Palestinians died when Israeli war planes bombed a Hamas headquarters building east of Gaza City. A third Israeli airstrike targeted a pickup truck near the southern town of Rafah. It killed three people — a father and his two teenage sons. Israeli troops and tanks have also moved across the Gaza border. Hamas accused Israel of colluding with Fatah in a battle for dominance over Gaza. A spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the Israeli attacks were justified because Hamas is firing rockets into southern Israel.
Miri Eisen: “We won’t allow them to use their violence, their terror, against Israel. Israel knows how to respond. We will do all defensive measures to be sure that our citizens are safe. We will not be dragged by the Hamas into the mire of Gaza.”
Hamas has vowed to keep carrying out rocket attacks. Paramedics in Israel said at least three Israelis were injured this morning in a rocket attack on the town of Sderot. On Thursday, Hamas rockets hit a synagogue and a school.
Hamas spokesperson Ayman Taha: “We will not be quiet for long with these continued crimes, and we will not stand with our hands tied. We’re ready to launch any type of attack, by any means and equipment necessary, and in all the cities. We will choose the right time and place.”
In Washington, the Bush administration has praised Israel for showing what it described as “great restraint.” But the Arab League has denounced Israel for exploiting Palestinian infighting.
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has announced he will resign at the end of June. Calls for his resignation have been mounting since it was disclosed that he oversaw a pay raise and promotion for his companion, Shaha Ali Riza. The White House said it will soon announce a candidate to replace Wolfowitz. Although over 180 countries are involved in the World Bank, the United States traditionally picks the bank’s president. Critics of the World Bank have warned that Wolfowitz’s personnel dispute should not overshadow more systemic problems at the bank.
In Iraq, a British think tank is warning that the Iraqi government has lost control of vast areas of the country and is on the verge of collapse. The report by Chatham House warns: “It is now possible to argue that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation.” The report also concludes that several civil wars are now being fought in Iraq. May 20 marks the one-year anniversary of the formation of the Maliki government.
In other Iraq news, two broadcast journalists working for ABC News have been killed. ABC said cameraman Alaa Uldeen Aziz and soundman Saif Laith Yousuf were killed when unknown assailants attacked their car on Thursday.
The Iraqi city of Samarra remains under curfew for an 11th day. Residents are struggling to find food, fuel and medication, as vehicles have been restricted from entering or leaving the city. The Iraqi government imposed the curfew on May 6 after a suicide car bombing killed 12 police officers, including Samarra’s police chief. Residents said the situation in the city is dire.
Local Resident: “The bridge has been closed. There is no electricity. There is no water. We are suffering. The sick people cannot leave. They died in their homes because ambulances cannot reach them. How long will this situation last?”
A doctor working in Samarra’s main hospital said 10 people, including seven infants, had died because of a lack of fuel to power generators that operate life-saving equipment.
In Washington, Tony Blair met with President Bush on Thursday for what was likely his last visit to the White House as British prime minister. Blair defended his decision to back the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Tony Bair: “This is not — it’s not about us remaining true to the course that we’ve set out because of the alliance with America. It is about us remaining steadfast, because what we are fighting, the enemy we are fighting, is an enemy that is aiming its destruction at our way of life and anybody who wants that way of life.”
In news from Capitol Hill, a group of Democrats are pushing for the Senate to hold a no-confidence vote next week for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales has been widely criticized for his role in the politicization of the Justice Department as well as the administration’s warrantless surveillance program. On Thursday, President Bush refused to answer questions about whether he personally ordered Gonzales in 2004 to try to coerce then Attorney General John Ashcroft to sign off on the spy program.
Kelly O’Connell: “Sir, did you send your then-chief of staff and White House counsel to the bedside of John Ashcroft while he was ill to get him to approve that program? And do you believe that kind of conduct from White House officials is appropriate?”
President Bush: “Kelly, there’s a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn’t happen. I’m not going to talk about it.”
In other news from Capitol Hill, the House has voted to demand the Bush administration begin the task of closing the military prison at Guantanamo. Meanwhile, a Navy lawyer has been found guilty of illegally leaking information about prisoners there. In 2005, Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Diaz mailed the names of 550 detainees at Guantanamo to an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Diaz faces up to 14 years in jail.
In Philadelphia, attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal argued before a federal appeals court on Thursday that the former Black Panther deserves a new trial. Abu-Jamal has been on death row for 25 years after being convicted of killing a police officer following a controversial trial. The appeals court will decide whether Mumia gets a new trial, life in prison without parole, or execution. We’ll have more on this story after headlines.
Protests are continuing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, over the school’s decision to grant President Bush’s former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card an honorary degree.
At Harvard University, students have begun a campaign to condemn the presence of Israel’s former military chief Dan Halutz on campus. Halutz is being sponsored by the Israeli army to attend a two-month executive training program at Harvard’s Business School. Posters have been put up around campus that read: “Wanted for Crimes of War.” Dan Halutz served as the head of Israel’s military during last year’s war against Lebanon.