Senators Looking To Pick Up Pieces

Michelle Mittelstadt, Houston Chronicle, June 29, 2007

Even as the Senate dealt a likely fatal blow to President Bush’s push to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, some Democrats and Republicans began talking about trying to pass narrower, less ambitious pieces.

Empowered by Thursday’s 46-53 vote that effectively killed a bipartisan compromise bill dismissed by many conservatives as amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, many Republicans now are reverting to their key priority: increased enforcement at the Southwest border and in the U.S. interior.

And Democrats, for their part, are considering offering the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to illegal immigrant students. And they are looking at ways to address acute labor shortages in agriculture by bringing in more foreign farm workers and placing them on a path to legal permanent residence.

“We have to have a different approach,” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said shortly after the Senate fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to keep the tenuous immigration deal alive. “It’s clear from the vote that this bill was not the right approach.”

Hutchison, who was among 37 Republicans, 15 Democrats and one independent voting to shelve the bill, is pressing for what she calls a “graduated approach.”

Under her concept, Congress would first pass bills increasing border security and creating a temporary worker program to fill unmet U.S. labor needs before turning to the most controversial aspect: What to do with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

Fellow Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who also opposed the bill, agreed. “The one thing we have a consensus on that we need to do is to secure the border and to deal with the document fraud and identity theft that makes our current system so hard to enforce,” he said.

But the political and legislative pressures that brought Democrats and Republicans to the table to craft a “grand bargain” on immigration could doom any effort to pass tailored bills. With any immigration legislation needing bipartisan support to get through the narrowly divided Congress, Democrats could block enforcement-only legislation if their concerns are not met, or Republicans could tank any Democratic effort to liberalize legal immigration.

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A ‘grand bargain’

Others were far less optimistic, saying the door appears slammed shut until after the 2008 elections.

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