Immigration Deal Faces Uncertain Future

Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., seated, and others, takes part in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 17, 2007, to discuss immigration reform legislation. Standing, from left are, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
AP Photo/Dennis Cook
The job of patrolling the U.S. border for illegal immigrants is an unrelenting and difficult job. The job of Congressional proponents for immigration reform to sell their new plan is proving to be just as difficult.

A bipartisan immigration deal that would grant legal status to millions of people in the country unlawfully is drawing criticism from across the political spectrum.

The bargain reached between key Democratic and Republican senators and the White House faces an uncertain future in the Senate, which is set to begin debating it Monday.

As CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, the deal is a big, first step but it is only a first step. The small team of negotiators will now try to sell their plan to the rest of Congress.

"I don't know if the immigration legislation is going to bear fruit and we're going to be able to pass it," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who harbored "serious concerns" about the deal.

Even if it were to survive what's certain to be a searing Senate battle, the measure would be up against long odds in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., acknowledging deep divisions on immigration among Democrats, says she won't bring it up unless President Bush can guarantee he will produce 70 Republican backers — a tall order given GOP concerns that the bill is too lenient.

The agreement, which also mandates tougher border security and workplace enforcement, marked an extraordinary marriage of liberal and conservative goals that has the potential to bridge stubborn divides and ensure enactment of new laws this year.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., his party's lead negotiator on the deal, called it an example of the "politics of the possible," while conservative Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said it was the "best opportunity" for a bipartisan solution to the nation's immigration problems.

It was soon under attack, however, from a set of lawmakers and interest groups as diverse as those that united to craft it. Their varying concerns and competing agendas — along with a challenging political environment — could be enough to unravel the painstakingly written agreement.

"It's a divisive issue, it's an emotional issue," Kennedy admitted on CBS News' The Early Show Friday.

Two of the key players in the talks from each end of the political spectrum, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, walked away from the deal before it was announced.

Conservatives branded it "amnesty," complaining that it would reward the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants with a way of gaining legal status and staying in the U.S. permanently without being punished.

"What part of 'illegal' does the Senate not understand? Any plan that rewards illegal behavior is amnesty," said Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus.

Kennedy dismissed the "amnesty" criticism, saying, "That's sort of a slogan and a cliché."

The deal would allow illegal immigrants to come forward right away, but they could not get visas or begin a path to citizenship until the border security improvements and a high-tech worker identification program were in place.

After that, illegal immigrants could obtain a renewable "Z visa" that would allow them stay in the country indefinitely. After paying fees and fines totaling $5,000, they could ultimately get on track for permanent residency, which could take between eight and 13 years. Heads of households would have to return to their home countries first.

Added late in the negotiations was the Dream Act, reports Attkisson. Immigrants who came illegally as children and are now in college or the military could stay and get a green card in just three years. This would be the fastest path to citizenship.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.