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Immigration Compromise Faces Contentious Amendments

June 27, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Yesterday, 64 senators voted to clear a 60-vote hurdle and take up consideration of the immigration bill. Finding a similar amount of support to bring it to a final vote on passage will be more difficult. If at least 60 votes in favor are still there for that vote on Thursday, the bill will surely pass the Senate because the final vote on passage only requires a 51-vote majority. Before then, the Senate will consider twenty-seven amendments and finding enough votes for it then will be determined by how the bill is altered by these amendments.

So far, the only two amendments to be voted on were ones that had the potential to retain (and possibly gain) critical Republican support. Both were defeated. The first one was from Kay Bailey Hutchison (R, TX) — pictured below — who voted yesterday against taking up the bill:

>The Senate on Wednesday killed a Republican proposal to require all adult illegal immigrants to return home temporarily in order to qualify for permanent lawful status in this country.
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>The vote was 53-45 to table an amendment by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, that was one of several proposals designed to respond to conservatives who decry President Bush’s immigration bill as a form of amnesty.
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>The bill could grant lawful status to as many as 12 million illegal immigrants as long as they passed background checks and paid fines and fees. Heads of household seeking permanent legal residency would have to return home to apply for green cards, however.
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>Without her amendment, Hutchison said shortly before the vote, “the amnesty tag that has been put on this bill will remain. It is the key issue in the bill for the American people.”

That the bill provides amnesty for illegal immigrants is the main concern Republicans have with the bill. If Hutchison’s amendment had been approved, some Republicans concerned with amnesty may have felt free to vote for the bill, even tough — as this National Review editorial explains — it may have actually made no more than “a distinction without a difference.”

Another amendment that was shot down today was offered by Jim Webb, a Democrat who shares many of the same concerns Republicans have about the bill.

>On a vote of 79 to 18, the Senate voted to table, or kill, the proposal by the Virginia Democrat to require that illegal immigrants have lived in the United States four years to qualify for lawful status.
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>The immigration overhaul bill before the Senate would make eligible for citizenship those illegal immigrants who came to the United States before Jan. 1.
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>Under it, at least 12 million undocumented immigrants could qualify for lawful status. By contrast, Webb’s amendment would have allowed perhaps 4 to 5 million illegal immigrants that opportunity, according to Webb aides.
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>"I’ve heard loud and clear," Webb said, “not only from Virginians but across this country . . . that this Congress should find a fair system that on the one hand, protects American workers and also respects the rule of law.”
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>"This amendment is the fairest method I know to do so."

Webb voted yesterday in favor of debating the bill. Having his amendment defeated probably means that he will change to a “Nay” for Thursday’s vote. Only four “Yea” votes can be lost between now and then for the bill to be able to proceed to passage.

The AP has put together this list of some other major amendments that will be voted on before a vote to proceed to a vote on passage takes place:

  • Award more points in the merit-based green card allocation system for family ties to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
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  • Replace the worker identification program, narrowing the group of employees whom businesses would have to check, by Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Barack Obama, D-Ill.
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  • Crack down on people who remain after expiration of their visas, require that all illegal immigrant heads of households seeking lawful status return home within three years to qualify for a “Z” visa, by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Mel Martinez, R-Fla.
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  • Provide an additional 40,000 “H-1B” visas a year for skilled foreign workers with advanced degrees, set aside 20,000 green cards annually for skilled foreign workers and allow employers to continuing sponsoring such employees for green cards for five years, offered by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
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  • Deny illegal immigrants Social Security benefits accrued while they were in the country unlawfully, by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.
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  • Reduce the annual cap on “Y” visas by the amount of temporary workers who stay past their visas’ two-year expiration date, by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
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  • Bar illegal immigrants from obtaining probationary lawful status until all border security and enforcement triggers are met, by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
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