June 24, 2007
Senators Renew Debate on Immigration Bill
By CHRISTINE HAUSER
Senators renewed their debate over the immigration bill today ahead of
the measure's expected return to the Senate floor this week.
"I believe we will pass the bill, and I think we have good support
among the Republican Party," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, from
Massachusetts, who is the chief Democratic architect of the bill and
has been its staunchest defender. "And the reason we're going to pass
this bill is because it's tough, fair and practical," he said on the
ABC News program "This Week."
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a leading Republican opponent of the
bill, said support for it was continuing to drop.
"A lot of key senators that were thought to be supportive have
announced in recent days that they don't support it," he said on ABC.
"The poll numbers continue to plummet."
"We're going to use every effort to slow this process down and
continue to hold up the bill and read it to the American people and
show them that even though they may favor the ideals of the
legislation, that the legislation won't get us there, and we're going
to need a national commitment from the president through the Congress,
really a mindset change, in which we say, `We can make this system
lawful,' " Mr. Sessions said.
The remarks by these senators and others came on Sunday talk shows
after President Bush, in his weekly radio address this weekend, urged
members of both parties to support the comprehensive overhaul of the
nation's immigration laws.
"This bill provides an historic opportunity to uphold America's
tradition of welcoming and assimilating immigrants and honoring our
heritage as a nation built on the rule of law," Mr. Bush said. "We
have an obligation to solve problems that have been piling up for
decades. The status quo is unacceptable. We must summon the political
courage to move forward with a comprehensive reform bill."
"By working together, we can pass this good bill and build an
immigration system worthy of our great nation," he said.
The president has been stepping up lobbying on behalf of the crippled
immigration bill. Last week, he visited the Capitol to try to assure
wary Senate Republicans that border security was a driving force
behind his push for changes in immigration law.
The sweeping immigration overhaul stalled in the Senate on June 7 when
senators rejected a Democratic call to cut off debate and move toward
a final vote on the compromise legislation after Republicans
complained that they had not been given enough opportunity to reshape
the sprawling bill.
A bipartisan group of senators brokered the compromise bill that tried
to balance stricter border enforcement with a means for many of the 12
million people who are in the United States illegally to eventually
become citizens. Opponents of the legislation asserted that it
rewarded those entered the country illegally.
President Bush has been pushing for a comprehensive immigration bill
that calls for more border security, a guest worker program and a
"merit-based system" of selecting immigrants that emphasizes education
and job skills.
The bill pending in the Senate would also offer legal status and work
permits to most of the illegal immigrants. Those who have been in this
country since Jan. 1 could get legal status and special "Z visas,"
renewable every four years. They would have to leave the United States
if they wanted to apply for permanent-residence visas, or green cards.
Mr. Kennedy said today that this bill would carry what he called the
greatest commitment to border security in the nation's history, with
$4.4 billion going into border security.
"Beyond that, it's fair," he said. "It says to the undocumented here:
`You're going to go to the back of the line, to all of those that are
waiting to come to the United States, who have been playing by the
rules, you go to the end, back of the line. You pay a hefty fee. You
learn English. You demonstrate that you pay taxes, and you demonstrate
a good work record.' "
Mr. Sessions said that he supported comprehensive overhaul of
immigration law, but that "this bill will not achieve that vision."
"It will not work," he said. "We will be on the verge of giving an
amnesty for 12 million people, but not getting a legal system in the
future that will work, and that's the difficulty.
Other lawmakers suggested that the extent of support for the bill was
not yet clear. The Senate is expect Tuesday to vote again on cutting
off debate. The last attempt at closure on June 7 received only 45 of
the 60 votes needed to pass.
"We'll see if between the two parties we have 60 votes" needed to keep
the bill moving toward a final vote, said Senator Dianne Feinstein,
Democrat of California, on "Fox News Sunday."
That would allow about 25 amendments, said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat
of Oregon, on CNN's "Late Edition." "So we'll have a long discussion,"
Senator Trent Lott, Republican from Mississippi, said he was not yet
committed to voting for the final product. "The wheels may come off,"
he said on Fox. "But I am committed to trying."