Senate Revives Immigration Bill

President Bush gestures while speaking to the Associated Builders and Contractors meeting in Washington, Thursday, June 14, 2007. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
AP Photo/Ron Edmonds
Key senators tentatively agreed on a plan to revive a stalled immigration bill on Thursday, aided by President Bush's support for a quick $4.4 billion aimed at "securing our borders and enforcing our laws at the work site."

After a series of meetings, the negotiator for the Democrats, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and the negotiator for the Republicans, Sen. John Kyl, said they would present their plan to their parties' leaders, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

Reid and McConnell released a statement Thursday night saying the bill will go back to the Seante floor.

"We met this evening with several of the Senators involved in the immigration bill negotiations," it read. "Based on that discussion, the immigration bill will return to the Senate floor after completion of the energy bill."

In general, according to officials familiar with the discussions, Republicans and Democrats would each be accorded roughly a dozen chances to amend the measure, with the hope that they would then combine to provide the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by die-hard opponents. The officials who described the emerging plan did so on condition of anonymity, saying the negotiations had been conducted in private.

The legislation has generated intense controversy, particularly for provisions envisioning eventual citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million immigrants now in the country unlawfully. The bill also calls for greater border security and a crackdown on the hiring of illegal employees.

"We're going to show the American people that the promises in this bill will be kept," Mr. Bush said, two days after launching a personal rescue mission.

Any agreement is subject to approval by Reid, who has said repeatedly it is up to Mr. Bush and Republicans to line up the votes needed to advance the measure if it is to be brought back to the Senate for debate. Reid, who has expressed misgivings about elements of the bill, sidetracked it last week after supporters gained only 45 of the 60 votes needed.

Republicans accounted for only seven of the 45 votes, and Reid said earlier this week, "We'll move on to immigration when they have their own act together."

President Bush's decision to personally announce support for the accelerated funding reflected concerns expressed by Republican senators at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday. Several told him their constituents doubted the government was capable of following through on a commitment to enforce immigration laws.

In a letter sent to Mr. Bush before the meeting, Georgia Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson wrote, "This lack of trust is rooted in the mistakes made in 1986, and the continued chaos surrounding our immigration laws. Understandably, the lack of credibility the federal government has on this issue gives merit to the skepticism of many about future immigration reform."

Under the legislation as drafted, money for border enforcement would be collected gradually as illegal immigrants pay the fines and fees needed to achieve legal status. The letter asked Mr. Bush to secure the border before other elements of the immigration measure go into effect, and the president agreed in his remarks to the Associated Builders and Contractors.

"One common concern is whether the government will provide the resources to meet the goals in the bill. They say, 'It's fine to talk about it, are you actually going to do something?'" he said.

"To answer these concerns I support an amendment that will provide $4.4 billion in immediate additional funding for securing our borders and enforcing our laws at the work site," he said.

"By matching our benchmarks with these critical funds, we're going to show the American people that the promises in this bill will be kept."

Two Republican supporters of the legislation, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kyl of Arizona, had previously proposed advanced funding.

"The moment the presidential signing pen meets the paper these funds will be available," Graham said in a statement welcoming Mr. Bush's remarks.

But Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., an opponent of the legislation, took a different view. "I appreciate the effort to fund border security, but there's simply no reason why we should be forced to tie amnesty to it. If the administration was serious about fulfilling the border security promises, then this funding should have been supported all along, not offered at the last minute to attract votes to a bad bill."

Even a decision to return the bill to the Senate floor does not guarantee its passage, given the intense opposition. "We've got people out there on both sides really ready to burn the place down," said Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the second-ranking Republican. "I don't think we ought to let that happen."

The calendar, too, presents obstacles to any attempt to pass the measure before the Senate begins a scheduled vacation in two weeks. Should they choose, critics of the immigration measure could slow progress on other measures Reid wants debated in the next two weeks. The effect would be to further reduce prospects for passage of the immigration bill.