June 16, 2007
Broad Effort to Resurrect Immigration Bill
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON, June 15 â" At 4:30 p.m. on June 7, the Roman Catholic
Church defied the sponsors of a comprehensive immigration bill and
urged the Senate not to move toward final passage of the measure
without significant changes.
A few hours later, after the Senate rejected his motion to end debate
on the bill, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of
Nevada, pulled it from the Senate floor.
His action prompted advocates to rally behind the bill. Within 24
hours, the Catholic Church and many business, labor and Hispanic
groups were urging the Senate to resurrect it.
They had all complained about various provisions of the measure. But
when it appeared that the bill might be dying, they were flummoxed.
Separately and together, they mobilized scores of lobbyists. They put
pressure on the Senate and on Mr. Reid, in particular, to revive the bill.
âWe were not happy with the bill,â said J. Kevin Appleby of the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops. âBut we did not want it to die.â
In public, Mr. Reid and the White House blamed each other for the
apparent demise of the legislation, while conservative politicians and
talk radio hosts criticized it as âamnestyâ for illegal immigrants.
But behind the scenes, Mr. Reid was inundated with telephone calls,
letters, faxes and e-mail urging him to bring the bill back up. The
pleas came from groups as diverse as the National Restaurant
Association, the National Council of La Raza, the New England Apple
Council and the business software company Oracle.
Farmers and ranchers from coast to coast told the Senate to get the
âWe are tired of the politics, weâre tired of the excuses, and weâre
not going away until Congress reforms the broken immigration system,â
said Maureen J. Torrey, who grows vegetables and raises dairy cows in
western New York.
Unite Here, a union representing apparel, hotel and laundry workers,
said the bill could be a boon to illegal immigrants who live in
constant fear of being arrested and deported.
âWe are the biggest union in the state of Nevada,â said Thomas G.
Snyder, political director of Unite Here, which has nearly 60,000
members in Las Vegas casinos. âWe have a long relationship with Harry
Reid. He knows where we stand on immigration reform. We have been in
constant contact with his office.â
Business trade associations weighed in on Monday, four days after the
bill appeared to have collapsed.
The United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of
Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business and the
Business Roundtable told the Senate to go back to work.
The impasse could provide a âcooling-off period,â they said in a
letter to all senators, urging them to pass a comprehensive
Randel K. Johnson, a vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, said
the efforts of business executives, combined with President Bushâs
visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, âcreated an echo-chamber effect.â
The message resonated with the Senate Republican leader, Mitch
McConnell of Kentucky, and Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the chief
Republican architect of the bill, who kept plugging for a deal.
Laura Foote Reiff, a lobbyist for companies that employ millions of
immigrants in the hotel, construction and health care industries,
fired off a letter to Senate leaders expressing âdeep concern and
distress with the Senateâs perceived inability to complete work on the
In opposing the effort to limit debate on June 7, the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops said the Senate needed more time to
correct âsignificant flawsâ in the bill: âthe evisceration of the
family preference systemâ and a legalization program that âmay well be
The bishops cited those concerns when it urged the Senate to take up
âThe issue of immigration is too important for our elected officials
to abandon,â said Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif.
âIt cannot wait for several more years. Human beings are suffering and
Hispanic officials echoed that concern in urging Mr. Reid to revive
âImmigration is a life and death issue,â said Representative Luis V.
Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the immigration task
force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. âEach day that goes by
without action means more people will die in the desert.â
Mr. Bush did his part to whip up support for the bill by cajoling
Republican senators and giving a speech on the issue. That put
pressure on Mr. Reid to respond.
In addition, Mr. Reid was pummeled in some newspaper editorials and
op-ed columns, which said it was shameful for him to let the bill die.
James P. Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said the news media
criticism had âzero effectâ on the majority leader. Many have
questioned the strength of his commitment, but Mr. Reid insisted, âI
have every desire to complete this legislation.â
On Friday, Mr. Reid said he would keep the Senate in session on
weekends if necessary to complete work on the immigration bill this month.
Aides to Mr. McConnell, the Republican leader, said he had not
promised to deliver any specific number of votes for efforts to shut
off debate on the bill.
Only seven Republicans voted to end debate on June 7. Mr. Reid and the
authors of the bill hope that more Republicans will support such a
motion if they are allowed to offer amendments.
One amendment would add $4.4 billion to the bill to increase border
security and enforcement of the immigration law. Others would expand a
guest worker program for low-skill workers and provide more temporary
visas and green cards for high-tech professionals sought by companies
like Microsoft, Intel and Google.
One of the more contentious amendments, proposed by Senator Kay Bailey
Hutchison, Republican of Texas, would require illegal immigrants to
return to their home countries before they could obtain even temporary