Senate to Vote on Reconsidering Immigration Bill

Senators are expected to vote on whether to resume debate on the immigration bill. It has opponents on the left and the right. It will take 60 votes to bring up the bill again, and even if that threshold is reached, there is no guarantee the measure will win final approval later this week.

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More than a year of effort to cross two different Congresses comes down to this. The Senate votes today on an immigration bill, or not precisely on the bill, senators will vote on whether they will allow the bill to come to a vote. Under the Senate's elaborate rules, 60 of the hundred lawmakers have to vote to bring up the measure. Even if they do, it is not clear that a majority will approve the measure later this week.

Tangled in there somewhere is the question of whether the nation's immigration laws will change, and NPR's Brian Naylor has the report this morning.

BRIAN NAYLOR: When we last left the immigration bill, it was just barely clinging to life. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the bill from the floor after backers couldn't muster 60 votes to end debate. Now, two and half weeks later, there will be another try, this time requiring 60 votes to resume debate. It's a vote the White House, which helped write the immigration bill, is optimistic it will win. Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who opposes the measure, says the White House has been pulling out all the stops.

Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): There have been a whole lot of calls and conversations. And probably there's some good deals out there, but I don't want to speak specifically on those.

NAYLOR: The immigration bill would tighten security at the border, implement a temporary guest-worker program and legalize the nation's 12 million undocumented workers while requiring them to pay fines and return temporarily to their native countries. Opponents on the right contend that's amnesty. Opponents on the left also have problems with the bill. It changes the way visas would be awarded from a system that favors family ties to one that is merit-based, favoring an applicant's education and job skills.

If debate proceeds today, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez in New Jersey hopes to restore some of the weight given family ties in the awarding of visas.

Senator ROBERT MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey): All our amendment says is, hey, what has been a bedrock principle of immigration law for well over four decades should not be totally abandoned and that family in our society does have a value.

NAYLOR: Another amendment expected to get a vote would change a provision dealing with background checks on applications for Z visas. The Z visas are the ones that would be given to undocumented workers. They're supposed to be granted on a probationary basis within a day of an application. Conservatives have argued that's not enough time to do a thorough investigation. But eliminating the fast background check will make the bill even less appealing to Latino and labor groups who say the provisions dealing with undocumented workers are already too harsh.

Sonia Ramirez is with the AFL-CIO, which has announced its opposition to the immigration bill.

Ms. SONIA RAMIREZ (Legislative Officer, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Operations): The touchback provision, the incredible fees that would be placed on immigrants - those create barriers for people that would be seeking legal status who are here currently.

NAYLOR: Even if the Senate approves returning to the immigration bill today, that's by no means the last word. Opponents say senators may well approve resuming debate but later oppose final passage of the bill.

Republican DeMint says this is not the time to be debating such a contentious issue at all.

Sen. DEMINT: One of the best reasons not to move ahead with this bill right now is the favorable ratings for the president and the Congress are near historic lows. And to take the nation's most emotionally charged issue and try to ram it down America's throat at a time when there's not a high level of trust for what we're doing up here just doesn't make sense.

NAYLOR: But backers of immigration reform argue that if Congress doesn't try to fix what all agrees is a broken system now, it will be another two years before the issue comes back.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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