Sides gird for immigration reform fight
WASHINGTON – Critics of a comprehensive immigration bill fought back in the Senate on Monday, with lawmakers from both parties seeking to alter the measure substantially and Senate leaders agreeing to extend debate beyond the Memorial Day recess. Those developments made clear that the bill faced many obstacles before the Senate votes on it, even though it overcame its first hurdle on Monday, a simple vote to begin debate on the hugely contentious measure. “There just simply is not enough time on this massive, massively important piece of legislation to do it all” in one week, said the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev. The outlook for the bill is uncertain. In the House, Democratic leaders say dozens of Republican votes would be needed for passage. Some people who voted to take up the measure Monday said they did not support the bill in its current form but hoped to improve it with amendments. As written, it would offer legal status to most of the 12 million illegal immigrants, strengthen border security and increase penalties for employers of illegal immigrants. “The American people were not in those meetings,” Sessions said. “There are 85 senators who have no idea what’s in the bill. All we have seen is a bill written on a computer by somebody who works for the executive branch.” If Senate leaders had pushed the bill to final passage in one week, Sessions said, that would have been “a railroad job, for sure.” Vitter said the bill offered “pure unadulterated amnesty.” “If the American people knew what was in this bill,” he said, “there would be a massive outcry against it.” Bunning said the bill would “reward lawbreakers” with “a large-scale get-out-of-jail-free pass.” The chief Democratic architect of the bill, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, defended it as a prudent, urgently needed compromise. “Our security is threatened in the post-9/11 world by borders out of control,” Kennedy said. “Our values are tarnished when we allow 12 million human beings to live in the dark shadows of abuse as undocumented immigrants. Our competitiveness in a global economy is at risk when our employers cannot find the able workers they need.” Kennedy and other members of the bipartisan team of 12 senators who drafted the measure said they planned to meet every morning to work out a joint strategy, deciding which amendments could be accepted and which could not. The cross-currents buffeting the bill were illustrated minutes after the Senate convened. Reid criticized it on several grounds. “The bill impacts families in a number of ways that I believe are unwise,” Reid said. “The bill also allows 400,000 low-skilled workers to come to America for three two-year terms, but requires them to go home for a year in between. This is impractical both for the workers and for the American employers who need a stable, reliable work force.” Moreover, Reid said he feared that the bill would create “a permanent underclass of people who are here to work in low-wage low-skill jobs, but do not have a chance to put down roots or benefit from the opportunities of American citizenship.” The majority leader also criticized a provision under which illegal immigrants who gained legal status would have to return to their home countries to apply for green cards, or permanent resident visas. This requirement “will cause needless hardship for immigrants and needless bureaucracy for the government,” Reid said. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he was not trying to stonewall the bill, but wanted time to understand it. “I don’t know any piece of legislation that touches as many people in as many ways as this bill,” Corker said. Bush strongly supports the bipartisan bill, which incorporates many of his ideas. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Democrats plan to offer amendments to eliminate or scale back a new program for temporary workers, because they say that it would create a large group of second-class workers who would not be allowed to become citizens and that it would adversely affect the wages and working conditions of Americans in some industries. Republicans have drafted amendments to scale back the legalization program and to designate English as the national language. Reid’s decision to extend debate on the measure followed four hours of speeches on the floor in which supporters and opponents of the bill agreed that the nation had lost control of its borders, but disagreed on almost everything else. Leading the opposition to the bill, which President Bush says he wants to sign in its current form, were three Republicans, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and David Vitter of Louisiana. Sessions said the measure had been written behind closed doors, with no hearings or review by the Senate Judiciary Committee and no cost estimate by the Congressional Budget Office.