Lawmakers map strategies for immigration debate next week

Senate Democrats next week plan to counter Republican proposals on immigration and border security by emphasizing their ideas on the hot-button issue.

According to talking points circulated Friday by Democratic leaders to rank-and-file offices, Democrats will say they have "real solutions, with tough, effective enforcement and smart reforms that will secure our borders." The e-mail memorandum instructed Democrats to emphasize that the party does not support amnesty.

"No free pass, no automatic pardon and no jumping to the front of the line," it read. But the memo also indicated Democrats think they need to walk a fine line between tough talk on border enforcement and compassion toward undocumented workers.

"[B]y reducing the flow of undocumented immigrants and creating a legal path for those hard-working families already here, we can finally focus on catching the criminals and terrorists who put our nation at risk," reads the memo.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., plans to take up immigration legislation Tuesday, beginning with debate on an enforcement and border security measure. Frist has said he would allow Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to bring up his comprehensive immigration package if he can get it through committee early next week.

While Democrats plan to hold news conferences next week to highlight their position, party leaders have not crafted a substitute bill with specific provisions reflecting the party's ideas. The memo said Democrats want to "crack down" on businesses that hire illegal immigrants and "bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said this week he would support a bipartisan bill drafted by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that would allow the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants an opportunity to earn U.S. citizenship.

Over the last few months, Democrats have aggressively sought to burnish their credentials on national security issues, aiming to gain voter confidence in an area that has been largely monopolized by Republicans. They believe the party must frame next week's debate on immigration reform as a "security issue."

Democrats such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., a potential presidential contender in 2008 who has been reluctant to outline her position on the issue, also are padding the hard-hitting security rhetoric with attacks on the GOP-backed bill in order to court Latino and other immigrant groups.

Clinton told an Irish immigrant group that the Republican border enforcement bill would lead to "a massive hunt for illegal aliens."

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