The terms of the immigration debate have turned less friendly for illegal immigrants as lawmakers and the Bush administration struggle to reach a deal in the next few weeks.
The landscape for an immigration overhaul has turned upside down in only a year, with a different party in control of Congress and new political realities for President Bush and the chief congressional negotiators.
Bushin search of a domestic legacyhas morphed from cheerleader on the sidelines to broker in the fray, dispatching Cabinet members for lengthy daily meetings with senators on Capitol Hill.
A move toward the right
Last year’s GOP point man, Sen. John McCainwhose moderate stance on immigration defined last year’s approachis hanging back, wary of angering conservatives while he struggles to keep his presidential run going.
And while Republican divisions were highlighted last year, this time it’s Democratseager to show they can leadwhose fissures are on display.
In an ironic twist, the outlines of a potential deal have moved to the righttoward a more difficult road to citizenship for the nation’s roughly 12 million illegal immigrantseven as the power in Congress has shifted to Democrats, who overwhelmingly favor a more permissive approach.
The White House has floated a proposal that would require illegal immigrants to pay fines as high as $10,000, face long waits and return to their home countries in order to be eligible for citizenshipfar tougher conditions than in a bipartisan measure passed by the Senate last year and backed by Bush. The immigrants also would be denied a right to bring family members to the United States.
The changes reflect a new political calculus for Republicans, who fear that any plan passed by the centrist Senate will become more permissive toward immigrants in the more liberal House and during final Democratic-dominated negotiations.
Democrats, in turn, recognize that any immigration plan must have substantial GOP support in order to have a chance of being signed into law, so they are considering tougher measures. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has told Bush he must deliver 70 Republican votes before she will attempt to pass any immigration bill.
As Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., his party’s point man on the issue, huddles with Republicans and Bush’s team in search of a deal, other Democrats are impatient to pitch their own, more immigrant-friendly plan. Many advocates of an overhaul, including immigrant advocacy groups, business interests and organized labor, are adamantly opposed to the framework under discussion.