WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans said they would try to block the start of debate on an immigration overhaul because negotiators have not agreed on the details of the legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) is trying to force lawmakers to come to an agreement by beginning debate on legislation that the Senate approved and the House refused to take up last year. Reid said debate must proceed next week because the issue had been scheduled for months and because the Senate had no other time for what may be a two-week debate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said: "Any effort to move legislation on this issue that isn't the result of the ongoing bipartisan discussions would be a clear signal from Democrats that they are not yet serious about immigration reform."

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and three other Republicans wrote in a letter to Reid that they "will only support moving forward with legislation that is a product of the ongoing bipartisan discussions."

Lawmakers are trying to reach an accord on legislation to increase border security, create a temporary-worker program, and create a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers already in this country illegally.

Negotiators have said they were close to a deal, though some sticking points remained, particularly whether those seeking to come to the United States should be judged on a points structure in which education and skills become factors.

"We consider this a moral issue, how we're going to treat each other," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D., Mass.), who supports a family-based system. "Are we going to resist the voices of bigotry and discrimination and come up with a bipartisan bill?"

Reid said yesterday that he would introduce last year's legislation, which passed the Senate with 62 votes, as a placeholder for whatever deal is reached. Negotiators are meeting daily in talks that include Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said on the floor yesterday that lawmakers needed more time to complete an agreement. Without an accord, "floor action is likely to be a free-for-all," he said.

President Bush has got to get "personally involved" in congressional negotiations for lawmakers to reach an agreement, said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D., Vt.).

"He cannot just send up cabinet members and ask them to speak with a few members of the president's party," Leahy said, "and think that that's going to get you through."

Churches to Give Illegals Sanctuary

Churches in five big U.S.

cities plan to protect illegal immigrants from deportation, offering their buildings as sanctuary if need be, as

they pressure lawmakers to create a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants in this country.

Beginning yesterday, a Catholic church in Los Angeles and a Lutheran church in North Hollywood each intended to shelter one person, and churches in San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and New York plan to do so in coming months as part of the New Sanctuary Movement.

"We want to put a human face to very complex immigration laws and awaken the consciousness of the human spirit," said Father Richard Estrada of Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Los Angeles, where one illegal immigrant will live.

Organizers don't believe that immigration agents will make arrests inside the churches. Virginia Kice of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency

declined to say whether agents would try to arrest people who take sanctuary

in churches, though she

noted that agents had

the authority to arrest anyone violating immigration law.

Anti-illegal-immigration groups called the effort misguided.

- Associated Press

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