WASHINGTON — The Senate, continuing work on a bill to revamp the nation's immigration laws, Friday overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would have broadened the bill's offer of amnesty to illegal aliens who could prove they have lived in this country since a specified date.
By a vote of 65 to 26, senators defeated an amendment by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) that would have moved that date forward by one year, to Jan. 1, 1981. Opponents argued it would have increased the number of aliens eligible for amnesty by hundreds of thousands.
The measure also would have eliminated a provision delaying legalization until a select commission determined that employer penalties established under the bill were effectively halting the flood of illegal aliens across U.S. borders. Amnesty could be delayed up to three years after the law is enacted.
Fines against employers--up to $10,000 per illegal worker in cases where businesses show a "pattern or practice" of hiring illegal aliens--are the bill's chief means of discouraging job seekers from breaking the law to enter this country. Although it now is illegal to enter the country, it is not against the law to hire someone who has done so.
"Legalization in the absence of effective enforcement is going to increase the flow," asserted Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), the bill's sponsor and leader of the drive to defeat the amendment.
But Kennedy insisted that basing legalization upon the commission's findings was a "retreat from the fair and humane legalization system" in earlier versions of the bill.
In a significant concession to Kennedy, the Senate approved on a voice vote his amendment calling upon Congress to consider abolishing employer sanctions at the end of three years if it is found that they have discriminated against Latinos and other U.S. ethnic groups who may be mistaken for foreigners.
The prospect of such discrimination--that stiff fines will make employers leery of job seekers who have dark skin or accented speech--has been a major criticism of the bill by ethnic organizations and civil libertarians.
Bill Passed Before
The GOP-led Senate has passed the bill by 4-1 margins in two previous congressional sessions. The first time, it was never considered in the Democratic-controlled House; the second time, it won narrow House approval, but died when a House-Senate conference committee failed to resolve its differences.
It is expected to pass the Senate a third time next week, possibly as early as Tuesday.
Also approved Friday was an amendment by Sen. James A. McClure (R-Ida.) requiring immigration officials to obtain search warrants before raiding open fields for illegal farm laborers.
The amendment, which passed, 51 to 39, was sought by farmers in California and other states heavily dependent upon Latino agricultural workers, but was strongly opposed by the Reagan Administration.
"Farmers should be afforded the same rights and protection as any other businessmen," McClure argued.
However, Simpson warned that such an amendment "sets a dangerous precedent for other areas of law enforcement," such as searches for illegal drugs.
Separately, Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) told reporters he believes he will be able to reverse his narrow defeat Thursday on an amendment streamlining the process under which farmers of perishable crops can legally obtain large numbers of foreign workers at harvest time.
Growers of perishable crops--primarily in California--now depend heavily on illegal workers and say they cannot survive if the present bill becomes law.
Picked Up Votes
Although Wilson's proposal was defeated narrowly, he said he has picked up enough votes since then to pass a compromise plan, which would limit the number of workers brought in under the expedited procedures at 350,000. Wilson's original amendment set no limit.
Other amendments approved Friday included:
--Requiring that states install a system of checking whether applicants for welfare are in this country legally.
--Providing for a study of a phone-in system by which employers could verify whether job seekers are legal.
--Establishing a General Accounting Office study of improving Social Security cards so that they would be less vulnerable to counterfeiting by illegal workers needing identity documents.