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The US Senate has begun debating a key immigration bill that could give legal status to many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. Last week, President George W Bush and a bipartisan group of senators crafted a compromise version of the bill that would also strengthen border controls. The deal followed months of bitter debate and the bill’s critics are continuing to voice opposition. The proposal needs to be passed by both houses of Congress to become law.

President Bush, who has made immigration reform one of his priorities, has said he wants to see new legislation in place by the end of this year. It is a strong compromise and the best chance we will have to finally fix this broken system
Sen Edward Kennedy

The bill’s backers in the Senate are hoping it wins swift approval and avoids being caught up in the upcoming election cycle as politicians turn their attention to the 2008 presidential vote. But Republican senator Jeff Sessions, who opposes the bill, said it was “unthinkable” that the Senate would finish debating by the end of the week. “I’m prepared to use whatever tactics are appropriate to resist that,” he said. The House of Representatives is expected to try to frame its own legislation in July.

The BBC’s James Coomarasamy, in Washington, says Mr Bush is likely to face quite a fight there. The president will be able to sign the bill into law, only if the two proposals are reconciled.

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