CHN: Immigration Debate Revived In Senate
Senators announced last night that the immigration bill they had been debating for weeks will be brought back to the Senate floor for further consideration. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled the proposal off the Senate floor the night of June 7 when attempts to obtain cloture failed. Now it is expected that the bill will be placed back on the Senate schedule after the Senate finishes with the energy bill, which will likely be the week of June 25.
On June 4, Senators returned from the Memorial Day recess to continue debate on S.1348, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007. As reported in the last Human Needs Report, they faced a long list of amendments. Some of these amendments aimed to improve the bill, such as S.A. 1194 offered by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to change the original proposed cutoff date for reducing the family visa backlog, hence allowing more family visa petitions to be included, and S.A. 1183 filed by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) to ensure that the spouses and children of legal permanent immigrants are reclassified as immediate relatives. Similarly, however, there were several harmful and restrictive amendments in queue.
At the start of the week things seemed hopeful for supporters of comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate voted to defeat some harmful amendments, such as S.A. 1189 filed by Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) to substantially limit immigrants’ ability to obtain legal status by eliminating the preference for Z visa holders for obtaining green cards. However, as the week progressed the outlook began to change. Two amendments that would have strengthened the family reunification provisions in the proposal, S.A. 1194 and S.A. 1183, were defeated. On the other hand, other harmful amendments, like S.A. 1250 introduced by Senator Cornyn (R-TX) that in effect nullifies the confidentiality provision of the Senate bill and seriously undermines the viability of the legalization program, were accepted. To view the full list of amendments that were voted on throughout the debate and their results please visit: http://www.immigrationforum.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=879#Status.
Towards the end of the week hundreds of amendments had been filed. Senators tried to agree on a short list of amendments from both Republicans and Democrats to consider. However, Republican Senators opposed to reform, like Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Jim DeMint (R-SC) and John Cornyn (R-TX), hampered these efforts.
Frustrated, Senator Reid called for a final cloture vote the night of June 7. Two cloture votes had been taken earlier that day and failed by a significant margin. The third and final cloture vote mustered more support (45-50) but still fell short of the 60 votes needed. Seven Republicans ended up voting in favor of the final cloture vote. Eleven Democrats and independent Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) voted against cloture. Some of the Democrats that voted against cloture are actually supportive of Comprehensive Immigration Reform but voted against ending debate because their constituents felt the additional amendments were too harmful.
Immediately after the bill was pulled, key Senators responsible for putting together the original proposal began negotiations to revive the bill. President Bush also encouraged support of Republicans when he attended a Republican luncheon on June 12. Last night an agreement was reached allowing for a limited number of amendments from both parties. When the bill returns to the floor the first step will be a fourth cloture vote. Leaders from both parties believe they will have the 60 votes necessary to close debate.