WASHINGTON — The Senate voted for the second time in a week Thursday to delay until Oct. 1 sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens under the new federal immigration law.
The provision for the delay, approved by a 47-43 vote, is attached to a $9.4-billion stopgap spending bill, which could pass today. Thursday's vote was requested by opponents of the delay, led by Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), who tried to muster more support for their side since last week's 48-45 vote on the same issue.
The Senate provision is expected to face strong opposition from the House, which has passed its own version of the spending bill with no sanctions delay attached. The disparity between the two bills will have to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.
Senators were lobbied heavily for the delay by a coalition of civil rights groups and business organizations, which argued that beginning the sanctions program June 1, as scheduled, would cause "chaos" because of delays in the Immigration and Naturalization Service's public information program.
The INS had planned to mail millions of booklets explaining the new law this month, but officials now concede the material will not be ready to mail until mid-June at the earliest. Last week, on the same day of the first Senate vote, the INS agreed to a one-month delay of sanctions.
During Senate debate, however, supporters of the four-month delay argued that the INS postponement was not enough. "I want this program to work," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said, adding that the INS public information program offered "bureaucratic bumbling, continual chaos and excuses instead of action."
INS officials deny that they have been lax in informing the public and say the Senate's vote will have no effect on their plans.
Simpson, the chief author of the new immigration law, said that a delay "would only create confusion, not reduce it." He said that delaying sanctions would "send just exactly the wrong signal abroad," indicating that the government is not serious about imposing sanctions.
Wade Henderson of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the leaders of the delay effort, conceded Thursday that the House will be tougher to convince than the Senate. Earlier this spring, lobbyists failed in an effort to force a House vote on delaying sanctions.
Sees Unnecessary Layoffs
However, he added, the "extensive lobbying campaign" that had focused on the Senate will now "shift over to the House." Henderson and other proponents of the delay argue that employer fear and lack of knowledge about the new penalties will lead to unnecessary layoffs.
In addition to the mass mailings, the INS has installed a nationwide 24-hour toll-free phone number with a series of tape recordings describing highlights of the new immigration law. The number is 800-777-7700.