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Senate to try again on immigration overhaul

Reuters | June 26, 2007
Donna Smith

The Senate is headed for a showdown over immigration reform on Tuesday when lawmakers vote on whether to revive a bill that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants.

Supporters expect a close vote on a motion to resume Senate debate on the legislation, which faltered this month in the face of opposition from conservative Republicans who called it an amnesty that would do little to stem illegal immigration.

The measure also faces opposition from some labor unions, who say its temporary worker program, backed by business, will create an underclass of cheap laborers. Immigrant groups opposed the bill's limits on family migration.

"My impression is that the enthusiasm for this bill, even the votes for this bill, have been eroding in the last few weeks," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican.

Lawmakers have said their offices have been flooded by calls from constituents opposed to the bill. Even so, Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and other supporters say they will get the 60 votes needed on Tuesday to resume debate in the 100-member Senate.

Senate passage would represent a major victory for President George W. Bush, who has been urging his fellow Republicans to back him on the measure. But even if the Senate passes the legislation, it faces strong opposition in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The compromise bill was brokered by a group of Republican and Democratic senators and the White House after months of painstaking negotiations. It combines tough border security and workplace enforcement measures with a plan to legalize an estimated 12 million unlawful immigrants and create a new temporary worker program.

Supporters say that if the legislation stalls again in the Senate, lawmakers are unlikely to attempt to revive it again before next year's presidential election. Immigration is already a major campaign issue; Sen. John McCain of Arizona is the lone supporter for the bill among Republicans seeking the White House.

In an effort to help quell Republican opposition, Senate leaders have added to the legislation some $4.4 billion to pay for additional border security and enforcement measures.

Senators are expected to consider a number of amendments, including one from Republicans that would tighten security. Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has offered an amendment that would give more weight to family ties in the new merit-based system proposed for future immigrants.


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