By Attorneys Robert Reeves and Jeremiah Johnson
No sooner had Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew Senate Bill 1348 than did President Bush make a personal appearance on Capitol Hill to push fellow Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform. As a result, the issue of immigration reform did not leave the national news headlines and the debate appears alive, if not well. To be sure, comprehensive immigration reform remains a real and immediate concern, not only for immigrants and their families, but for all Americans. Polls have shown that the President, Congress and the majority of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform, so what went wrong, and more importantly, what will it take to make things go right?
Returning from the Memorial Day recess, Senators resumed the debate on comprehensive immigration reform. Senate Bill 1348 provided a promising framework for real comprehensive immigration reform by creating a new immigration system; securing our nation’s borders; providing legalization for an estimated 12 million immigrants; stemming future illegal immigration; reducing visa backlogs; and offering a temporary work force. During the debate, Senators from both sides of the aisle introduced numerous amendments – some positive, but most negative. For example, Senator Thune from South Dakota introduced an amendment that would deny immediate legal status to aliens eligible for the new “Z” Visa. In another example, Senator Webb from Virginia introduced an amendment that would eliminate the “touchback” provision requiring aliens to return home prior to obtaining lawful permanent residence.
At first, this amendment process appeared to be a genuine effort to improve Senate Bill 1348. However, it soon became apparent that a few Senate hardliners were only interested in passing an enforcement only bill and not real comprehensive immigration reform. These Senators would introduce an amendment, which the Senate would reject, and yet the Senators would introduce the amendment again. For example, on the same day of the vote to end debate, Senator Coleman from Minnesota introduced his amendment to allow states and localities to inquire about immigration status, despite having previously failed during the first week of debate. These few Senate hardliners were trying to defeat the bill by endlessly dragging on the debate, never relenting with amendments until the bill was pared down to an unacceptable enforcement only bill. As such, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called for a vote to end the debate, and when that failed, he withdrew the bill. For a brief moment it appeared that the comprehensive immigration reform would never become law.
And yet the debate continues and hope remains. After the bill was withdrawn, President Bush made a rare personal appearance on Capitol Hill to push his fellow Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform. The President’s push appears to have worked. Last week Senators announced a separate plan to provide more than $4 billion to strengthen immigration enforcement. Subsequently, Senators have reached an agreement to limit the number of amendments and Senator Reid is now prepared to reintroduce the Senate bill with a cap of 20 to 24 amendments before a final vote. Clearly, the bill was knocked down, but not out. Comprehensive immigration reform is still a possibility and Reeves & Associates will continue to provide the most current information regarding this historic opportunity.