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Immigration Debate - Round Two

June 3, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

By the end of the week, it should be clear whether the Senate’s immigration bill has been designed to sink or swim. Majority leader Harry Reid (D, NV) and the bill’s sponsors are planning to bring the bill to a conclusive vote by Friday.

The Senate will return from recess this afternoon and take up the immigration debate where they left off, debating and voting on a long list of amendments. With about 100 amendments still untouched, there is an enormous amount of potential for this delicately balanced bill to be thrown irreconcilably out of whack. However, the Washington Post is reporting that the bill’s backers have been feeling more optimistic about the chances of it holding together:

>Congress’s week-long Memorial Day recess was expected to leave the bill in tatters. But with a week of action set to begin today, the legislation’s champions say they believe that the voices of opposition, especially from conservatives, represent a small segment of public opinion. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who led negotiations on the bill for his party, said the flood of angry calls and protests that greeted the deal two weeks ago has since receded every day.

Because the immigration bill is essentially a compromise, everyone, no matter what their perspective is, can find ways for it to be improved. The question that will have to be answered when the Senate gives their final vote is whether it would be better to kill the bill and leave the current immigration system the way it is for now (and indefinitely), or to give this bill a chance to move further along in the legislative process and possibly, in the end, have some derivative of it update the system. The same Washington Post article goes on:

>The bill’s authors, as well as advocates of comprehensive immigration legislation, have been arguing that flawed as it is, the measure must go forward legislatively and eventually it will be fixed.
>That dynamic is driven by certain realities: a two-year backlog of legal immigration applications, a workforce in the United States that is as much as 5 percent illegal, and a growing patchwork of conflicting state and local immigration ordinances that threaten to paralyze business.
>"The glue that is keeping this process going is the absolute agreement by all the disparate groups that the current system is absolutely dysfunctional," said Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

By the time the deciding Senate vote is taken later this week, the bill could be dramatically different than it is right now. Some of the amendments to be considered are aimed straight at the heart of the most contentious provisions, which are also the ones that have the most effect on the bill’s overall balance. Take, for example John Cornyn’s (R, TX) amendment, which a New York Times editorial is calling “”">sabotage":

>Its ostensible purpose is to “close a gaping loophole” that Mr. Cornyn says would allow terrorists, gang members and sex offenders into the country. But his real target is bigger than that. He had no appetite for the bipartisan compromise and now wants to destroy it by attacking one of its pillars: a path to legal status for an estimated 12 million immigrants.
>Mr. Cornyn would do this by significantly expanding the universe of offenses that make someone ineligible for legalization. Some people who used fake identity papers — a huge portion of the undocumented population — would be disqualified. The amendment would also expand the definition of “aggravated felonies,” an already overbroad category of crimes, to include the act of entering or re-entering the country illegally.

Other threatening amendments include one from Chris Dodd (D, CT) that would put more emphasis on family ties by increasing the number of green cards available to parents of U.S. citizens, and one from Jeff Sessions (R, AL) that would make immigrants legalized by the bill ineligible to receive the earned income tax credit.

This bill was birthed from the most tedious and drawn-out negotiating process possible, and if it fails, you can’t really blame the poison-pill amendment that kills it. The bipartisan group of senators that worked for months behind closed doors to come to an agreement on the bill had to become a microcosm of the Senate. It was a difficult task, and the final vote on the bill will tell us how well they did. If a controversial amendment is approved and critical support for the bill is lost, then the negotiators will have failed to represent the larger body. But, if the amendments are warded off and the bill survives, it will be a great legislative achievement, albeit one that nobody is totally excited about.

If the bill survives this week and is approved by the Senate, it will have passed the highest hurdle it is likely to encounter. However, the the issue will still have to be taken up in the House of Representatives, then in a conference committee, and then once again by each chamber of Congress before being sent to President Bush to be signed into law.

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