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Reid Moves Immigration Talks Back to the Left

May 3, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) is committed to bringing immigration reform legislation to the Senate floor during the week of May 14. The only problem is that no such bill has been introduced in the Senate and recent attempts to work one out have been unfruitful. But Reid has a plan:

>Senate Democratic leaders, increasingly unhappy with an immigration overhaul taking shape in bipartisan talks with the White House, are considering moving their own, more permissive bill.
>The move would essentially pull the rug out from under a delicate round of talks between Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., top Bush administration officials and senior Republicans, who have been negotiating for weeks to strike a deal on the contentious and politically sensitive issue.
>Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has set May 14 as a target date for the immigration debate, said Thursday he plans to bring up a measure drafted last year – backed by most Democrats but only a few Republicans – if the talks don’t yield a bipartisan deal.

It’s smart. By threatening to bring back last year’s bill, Reid could force the “top Bush administration officials and senior Republicans” to cave in on the issues that have stalled the negotiations, swinging the hypothetical bill back to the left. The last thing Republicans want is to begin the floor debate with last year’s bill because it is less strict on illegal immigrants than what they could potentially get out of the Democrats this time around.

The bill from last year that Reid is threatening to bring up again, had bipartisan backing; it was sponsored by Arlen Specter (R, PA), John McCain (R, AZ), and Edward Kennedy (D, MA) among others, and it passed the Senate by a whopping 63 – 36. That’s with Republicans in the majority. The bill, if it had gone on to pass the House, would have enhanced border security, established a guest-worker program, and created a path to citizenship program for immigrants who are currently in the country illegally.

The contentious issue here is the path to citizenship program. Some Republicans want all illegal immigrants (there are about 13 million of them in the country) to be deported as punishment for breaking the law. Others, and these are represented by the “top Bush administration officials and senior Republicans,” want a path to citizenship program but with tough requirements serving as a punishment for entering the country illegal. These punishment provisions include a $10,000 fee and a “touchback” provision, which would require that illegal immigrants return to their home country before they are allowed to legally re-enter the U.S.

Both of these provisions are adjustable, and this is what recent talks have centered around. For example, the fees could be lowered, and the required “touchback” could be to any other country, not just the immigrant’s home country. Or, the length of time that immigrants would be required to stay in that country before returning to the U.S. could also be altered.

Last year’s bill would only requires immigrants to pay a $2,000 fee and does not require them to touchback. If Republicans loosen their demands now, they will almost certainly be able to hold on to tougher provisions than these.

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