FACTBOX-U.S. immigration bill amendments to watch
June 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate's debate over a comprehensive immigration bill is intensifying as proponents consider amendments designed to lure more Republican support and at the same time not alienate Democrats who are now on board. It is a difficult balancing act, especially with a self-imposed deadline of the end of June.
The bill has three main goals: It would put the 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the United States on a 13-year path to citizenship that begins with legal status; it would spend more than $6 billion to further secure the southwestern border against future illegal crossings; it would restructure visa programs by putting more emphasis on foreign skilled and non-skilled guest workers and less emphasis on family ties as the basis for entering the United States.
Democratic and Republican leaders are still trying to settle on which amendments will be debated. Here are some of the possibilities, any one of which could alter the fate of the legislation:
* "POISON PILLS"
Backers of these amendments certainly do not call them poison pills but that is how opponents describe them. Mostly, these are amendments that try to dismantle central features of the bill or make such significant changes that it becomes unacceptable to many members and fails. Any amendment that kills or indefinitely delays legalization and eventual citizenship for the 11 million undocumented residents would be in this category.
Another example is an amendment that would grant married homosexual couples the same rights on immigration matters as heterosexual couples. The bill as now written is silent on this subject. But it is a change that, if passed by the Senate, would cause many supporters to abandon the bill.
The bipartisan group of senators who wrote the bill appear to have the votes to defeat such amendments.
But talks are under way on a possible amendment aimed at further toughening border security. If that were to be tied to more rigorous requirements for the 11 million getting on a path to citizenship, it could become a tipping point for some supporters.
* TEMPORARY WORKERS
Attempts to change the guest-worker provisions of the bill could be land mines, too. Some senators want a lot more visas for temporary construction workers from abroad, for example, which could alienate labor unions. Others want more protections for low-skilled American workers, which might raise objections from employers.
* FARM WORKERS
Some farm-state senators might try to increase the number of visas for foreign agricultural labor. The Senate bill would allow 122,000 such guest workers a year, up from the 70,000 or so now allowed. A House of Representatives bill seeks up to 500,000 and some industry groups had been seeking an unlimited number of such visas.
The Senate's provision was hard-fought in the run-up to the bill being introduced earlier this year. Changes could upset the tentative deal reached between labor and industry.
Alternatively, if an attempt to pare back the number of visas succeeded, as some fear, this could also disrupt the bill.
* HEALTH CARE AND TAXES
Some Republicans in both houses of Congress have been clamoring for provisions to further ensure that those moving from illegal to legal status pay back taxes they owe.
They also want to expand provisions that already prohibit the newly legalized from gaining access to healthcare subsidies to prohibit access to other government benefits as well.
* HIGH-TECH WORKERS
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah last month won Senate Judiciary Committee approval for changes making it easier for U.S. companies to hire foreign high-skilled workers. Moves to reverse or weaken those changes likely would lose some precious votes and reduce the enthusiasm of the tech industry for the bill.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Fred Barbash and Bill Trott)