WASHINGTON – The Senate Wednesday turned back a series of amendments from both parties aimed at substantially altering controversial immigration legislation, but the bill shed supporters as it became mired in procedural hurdles that left backers concerned about its prospects.
The legislation faces a make-or-break vote today, when senators will decide whether to cut off debate and move to a final vote Friday. If it does not get the 60 votes necessary, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will pull the bill, all but dashing hopes for any meaningful legislation this year.
Top legislative aides in both parties predicted today’s vote would be very close but would fall short of keeping the proposal alive.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a key opponent, crowed Wednesday night, “they tried to railroad this through today, but we derailed the train.” Another opponent, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said, “I would say to my colleagues, ‘Let’s end this thing.’ “
Key Democrats who were on the fence also raised questions. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the failure of his amendment to bolster family reunification visas “makes it more difficult to vote in favor” of ending debate. The reunification provision was voted down 55 to 40.
Wednesday night’s stall came after a day that had left the bill’s proponents optimistic. The defeat of provisions intended to toughen the bill or soften its restrictions suggested that the core of the “grand bargain” was holding in the Senate’s second attempt to pass an immigration bill supported by the White House.
One key amendment rejected Wednesday was a Republican proposal to require all adult illegal immigrants to return to their countries temporarily to qualify for a special new visa.
The provision, an amendment offered by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, was defeated, 53 to 45.
The defeated amendments were among at least 26 measures up for consideration. Some are designed to stiffen the bill in response to criticism from conservatives, while others are aimed at weakening provisions that immigrants’ rights advocates or employers consider too burdensome.
The overall bill would create a path to U.S. citizenship for the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants and establish a new guest-worker program that would allow hundreds of thousands more to enter the country to take jobs that President Bush says Americans do not want. It also would pour billions of dollars into an effort to tighten border security.