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Senate makes new try for immigration bill

Key vote expected Friday, but many senators are barred from adding amendments.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 21, 2007


Drafted in secret, the once-derailed Senate immigration bill is making a comeback.

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But because it is being redesigned with unusual restrictions on debate, the legislation is drawing protests from critics. Not only will the resulting bill ignore broad concerns of immigration hard-liners, it may not even pass.

"The process has been orchestrated by a handful of people behind closed doors, and they are paying a price for that," says Sen. John Thune (R) of South Dakota. "People are feeling shut out."

An early test for party leaders and the bipartisan group of senators who crafted the compromise could come as early as Friday, when the Senate is expected to vote on whether to reopen debate on the bill. Supporters of the bill need at least 60 votes.

The key criticism involves the unusual restrictions that supporters have put on amendments to the bill. As a condition for giving the bill a second chance, Senate majority leader Harry Reid persuaded Republicans to whittle down scores of proposed amendments to a dozen. Democrats will be allowed 10 to 12 amendments, too.

But a draft list of which amendments would be included, which was leaked to the press this week, did not include any from the bill's hard-core opponents.

Supporters are offering debate on amendments to a persuadable group of senators who opposed the bill on the last key vote on June 7. Many of them say they could vote for the revised bill, if their concerns are met.

These amendments range from adjusting the scope of new citizenship and guest-worker programs to beefing up border-security features of the bill and penalties for employers who consistently hire illegal workers.

Freshman Sen. James Webb (D) of Virginia is on the list to offer an amendment to limit the scope of the new Z-visa program, which gives a path to citizenship to at least 12 million undocumented immigrants. A previous amendment by Sen. David Vitter (R) of Louisiana to scrap the program failed by a vote of 29-66.

"People who have put down roots in a community, at a time when our immigration laws were not enforced, deserve a way forward. But to give legal status to people who just happened to be here in December is against most people's notion of fairness," says Senator Webb, who campaigned on this issue. If his amendment is adopted, "I will vote for the bill," he adds.

On the Republican side, Sen. Norm Coleman (R) of Minnesota, who also opposed the bill, will have another crack at his amendment to allow police to question people on their immigrant status, if they have probable cause. That amendment failed by a vote of 48-49 on May 24.

In a bid to attract more votes, Senator Coleman says he has narrowed its scope to police, not school teachers or other public officials – and expects the amendment to pass. "We can't gag police officers from asking people about immigration," he says. "Many folks think we are not credible about enforcement of our borders. Without public trust and confidence, we may get this bill through the Senate, but not further."