Immigration bill gets last minute reprieve
By Andrew Ward in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 27 2007 00:34 | Last updated: June 27 2007 00:34
A bill aimed at reforming US immigration laws on Tuesday cleared an important procedural hurdle on Capitol Hill, keeping alive President George W. Bush’s hopes of salvaging a significant legislative achievement from his troubled second term.
But the fate of the bill, which would tighten border security while also offering a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, remained in the balance with several serious obstacles still to overcome.
The Senate voted by 64-35 to revive the legislation, three weeks after it was derailed by a similar procedural vote.
Hours earlier Mr Bush, who has made immigration reform the top domestic priority of his remaining 18 months in office, urged Congress to seize a “historic opportunity” to tackle one of the most intractable and emotionally charged issues in US politics.
The bill was given a second chance by the Senate after Mr Bush threw his support behind an amendment that would release an immediate $4.4bn for beefed up border security. Tuesday’s vote cleared the way for debate on a series of additional proposed amendments, some of which would widen support for the bill while others would almost guarantee its defeat.
Even if the bill were approved by the Senate, it would need to make it through the House of Representatives before becoming law.
Mark Souder, the top Republican on the House sub-committee on border security, on Tuesday warned that the legislation would be “dead on arrival” in the House.
Mr Bush has aligned himself with Democrats and Republican moderates in support of immigration reform, in defiance of fierce opposition against the bill among a large majority of grassroots Republicans.
Immigration has become an increasingly divisive issue within both parties as the number of illegal migrants in the country has grown to about 12m – most of them from Latin America – exposing the failure of existing laws.
“This is a moment for people who have been elected to come together, focus on a problem, and show the American people that we can work together to fix the problem,” Mr Bush said.
The proposed legislation would attempt to stem the flow of new arrivals through increased border security, while opening a new avenue for people to enter the US legally through a temporary worker programme.
Most controversially, it would provide an opportunity for illegal immigrants already in the country to apply for visas that could eventually lead to citizenship, subject to the payment of various fees and penalties – a provision that critics have labelled an “amnesty”.
“There are lots of procedural landmines that opponents of the bill can detonate,” said Angela Kelley, of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigration group.
Among the proposed amendments are a Republican measure requiring heads of illegal immigrant households to return to their native countries before gaining legal status and a Democratic measure to increase the number of permits available to relatives of migrants already in the country.