By MARGARET TALEV
May 12, 2006
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday they had agreed to various rules for debate that would give Democrats the comfort level to proceed on Monday.
Final approval this year by Congress of a measure as expansive as what is being considered is still seen as a long shot.
Immigration policy divides Americans, especially within the Republican Party. The House months ago passed an enforcement-only border security bill, and some key House members adamantly oppose to anything that resembles amnesty. President Bush's support among conservatives has eroded in polls in recent weeks, apparently in part because he wants more guest workers and has indicated an openness to expanding residency opportunities. Meanwhile, millions of supporters of relaxed immigration provisions marched in demonstrations across the nation this spring.
The agreement reached Thursday keeps the debate alive, however, and congressional aides have said that may at least increase the prospects that some immigration bill - perhaps one limited to border security measures, expanded guest-worker provisions and a commitment to further study what to do about nearly 12 million undocumented residents estimated to live in the United States - could be sent to the president this year.
"We congratulate the Senate on reaching this agreement and we look forward to a bill passing before Memorial Day," White House spokeswoman Christie Parell said.
Under the arrangement announced Thursday, several floor amendments could be considered and, once legislation was passed, 14 Senate Republicans and 12 Senate Democrats would be named to a conference committee to attempt to work out a compromise with the House.
"America's immigration system is broken, and our national security depends on Republicans and Democrats finding common ground to fix it," Reid said in a statement. "The assurances I have received from Senator Frist make me hopeful we can finally move forward on real comprehensive reform."
A diverse group of seven Senate Republicans, some supporting expanded citizenship opportunities and others favoring a crackdown on illegal residents, issued a release Thursday urging Democrats not to stall the debate or try to curtail amendments again.
"Efforts to curtail the debate prematurely will only derail this process," said the release issued jointly by Sens. Frist, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Mel Martinez of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl and John McCain, both of Arizona.
Democrats, led by Reid, stalled the immigration debate in early April, nervous about the prospects of unfriendly Republican amendments on the Senate floor and in conference committee with the House.
There's no guarantee that won't still happen.
"I'm one of those, I'm probably going to vote for whatever reaches a conclusion in here even though I may not totally agree with it," Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said in an interview earlier this week. "It's irrelevant what passes the Senate. What matters is what passes the Congress, the conference, and the president signs."
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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