WASHINGTON – Senate leaders vowed Thursday night to revive stalled immigration legislation as soon as next week, capping a furious rescue attempt led by President Bush.
The decision, announced by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and his Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, envisions a final vote on the complex bill before lawmakers begin their Fourth of July vacation.
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.
Critics of the measure succeeded in sidetracking it last week, and given their continued opposition, the decision to bring it back for additional debate does not necessarily portend passage.
Reid and McConnell announced their plans in a brief, two sentence statement that capped days of private negotiations by key senators as well as Bush’s personal involvement.
Two days ago, Bush made a rare visit to the Capitol for a meeting with Republican senators, where he urged them to give the bill a second chance. Earlier on Thursday, responding to a request from pivotal GOP senators, he threw his support behind a plan for $4.4 billion in immediate funding for “securing our borders and enforcing our laws at the work site.”
Precise details of the rescue plan were not immediately disclosed.
In general, according to officials familiar with the discussions, Republicans and Democrats will each have 10-12 opportunities 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.
Officials said the Bush-backed plan for accelerated funding would be among the changes to be voted on. So, too, would be a proposal by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to toughen a requirement for illegal immigrants to return to their home country before gaining legal status.
But in a gauge of the complexity of the rescue effort, officials said the Senate’s decision last week to terminate a temporary worker program after five years would likely not be subject to change before a vote on final passage. Many of the bill’s strongest supporters opposed the five-year provision when it came to a vote last week.
Also to be protected from immediate change is a requirement to give enforcement agencies access to information that immigrants provide on their applications for legal status.