Senate leaders reached a deal Thursday on reviving a broad immigration bill that could provide millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become American citizens and said they'll try to pass it before Memorial Day.
The agreement brokered by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., breaks a political stalemate that has lingered for weeks while immigrants and their supporters held rallies, boycotts and protests to push for action.
Key to the agreement is who will be negotiating a compromise with the House, which last December passed an enforcement-only bill that would subject the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States to felony charges as well as deportation.
Frist said the Senate will send 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats to negotiate with the House, with seven of the Republicans and five Democrats coming from the Judiciary Committee. The remaining seven Republicans will be chosen by Frist and remaining seven Democrats chosen by Reid.
The other stumbling block that derailed the legislation before the Easter break, the number of amendments that would be allowed to be added to the bill appears to have been worked out also. Originally Minority Leader Reid had hoped to limit the amendments to the legislation to three per side, fearing that if the hundreds of proposed amendments were to be considered, it would not only drag the process on ,but undermine the integrity of the original bill. He latter upped the number to ten. What number was finally settled on is yet to be seen.
tags: immigration, Tancredo, Comprehensive immigration reform, Frist, Harry Reid
Frist said a "considerable" number of amendments would be debated when the Senate begins debating the bill early next week.
Reid acknowledged on the Senate floor Thursday morning that he "didn't get everything that I wanted" in the agreement, but said Frist didn't either. Reaching the agreement is "not easy with the political atmosphere," Reid said.
Although this appears to be another breakthrough on the road to comprehensive immigration reform, over the past five months the road has been bumpy and filled with pitfalls. It is still to be seen in what form this bill will make it out of the Senate, not to mention what will happen when the Senate and House come together to reconcile their two opposite versions of immigration legislation.
Several GOP conservatives denounced the bill as an amnesty measure and Rep. Steve King of Iowa said anyone who voted for it should be "branded with a scarlet letter A."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., offered his view of the importance of immigrant labor: "I say let the prisoners pick the fruits."
In political terms, Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona and others said Republicans would pay a price in the midterm elections if they vote for anything like the Senate legislation. "Many of those who have stood for the Republican Party for the last decade are not only angry. They will be absent in November," Hayworth said.
Bush and top House Republicans reviewed the issue last week at a private White House meeting, according to several officials, and the president urged the GOP congressional leadership to embrace his call for comprehensive legislation. That means provisions to strengthen border security, coupled with a guest worker program that _ while the president doesn't say so in public _ provides a chance at citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. and other leaders stressed that would be a hard sell with their rank and file. Bush restated his desire for a comprehensive bill, and the leadership responded by noting the sentiment of the rank and file, according to officials familiar with the conversation. They spoke on condition of anonymity, given the private nature of the meetings.
Whether this compromise will move forward and bear fruit is yet to been seen. It seems as if as each impasse is overcome, a new one comes along to replace it…. And there is a long way yet to go before this legislation gets to the Presidents desk.