“We met this evening with several of the senators involved in the immigration bill negotiations. Based on that discussion, the immigration bill will return to the Senate floor after completion of the energy bill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a joint statement Thursday night.
Efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill has stalled in the Senate, where largely Republican opposition has said that the bill focuses too much on illegal immigrants already living in the United States and fails to beef up security along the country’s borders. The bill now promises $4.4 billion for new border safeguards.
The new proposal also condenses the more than one hundred original amendments down to just 11 from Democrats and 11 from Republicans.
If passed, the legislation also will place new restrictions on businesses employing illegal immigrants, create a guest worker program and offer citizenship to the approximately 12 million illegal workers already living in the country.
The agreement followed a trip by President Bush to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby fellow Republicans to reconsider the bill. Mr. Bush has made immigration reform a primary concern of his domestic agenda, hoping landmark legislation will leave a positive stamp on the final years of his presidency.
Democrats have also focused on creating a bill more likely to garner the votes needed to pass. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., pushed for the improved border defenses, telling the New York Times, “It’s a matter of our national security. We have broken borders and a broken immigration system.”
Despite the modifications and the president’s support, the fate of the legislation remains very much in doubt.
While Republicans have largely expressed support for improved border controls, some question legislation that combines those measures with a method for allowing illegal immigrants already in the United States to gain citizenship. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he supported the border safeguards to the New York Times, but added, “There’s no reason to tie amnesty to it.”
Some senators have also questioned the president’s proposal that the $4.4 billion be raised from penalties and taxes collected from illegal immigrants found in violation of the bill. “The idea that we will have border security only if it’s paid for by illegal immigrants is unacceptable,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told the New York Times.
President Bush said Friday that he would continue to work with legislators to move the bill through, adding that continued inaction by Congress would not make the issue go away.
“Each day our nation fails to act, the problem only grows worse,” the president said at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. “I will continue to work closely with members of both parties, to get past our differences, and pass a bill I can sign this year.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill before the July 4 recess.