Earlier today the Senate took the first step towards passage of the immigration reform bill by voting 64-35 to revive debate on the controversial legislation. This was an improvement of 19 votes over the last time the same measure was voted on a few weeks ago. Then, only 7 Republicans joined 38 Democrats in support of moving the bill forward. This time 24 Republicans joined 39 Democrats and Joe Lieberman in voting for the motion. The move was opposed by 25 Republicans, 9 Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders. However, all this vote did was bring the bill back to the Senate floor where some two dozens amendments will now be debated and voted on.
It is the amendment process that will either make or break this bill. Several Senators switched their votes from earlier in the month because they were promised that their proposed amendments will be voted on. This list includes Sens. Kit Bond (R-MO) Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Norm Coleman (R-MN), Pete Domenici (R-NM), John Ensign (R-NV), and Jim Webb (D-VA). On Thursday another procedural vote is scheduled that will require 60 votes to advance the bill to a final vote.
This bill could collapse at any step in this process if it is dramatically changed in ways that either Democrats or Republicans do not favor. Democrats and Republicans are both ill at ease with this bill. Republicans hate the guest worker program and the pathway to citizenship, while Democrats donâ€™t like the new points system that deemphasizes family ties. Before the vote, President Bush praised the bill and said that America is a better place because of immigration. â€œThe country is better off. Our soul is constantly renewed. Our spirit is invigorated when people come here and realize the blessings of America. And so the bill that we’ve worked hard to craft is an important piece of legislation that addresses the needs of a failed system that says we’re going to change for the better.â€
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) had this to say after the vote, â€œTodayâ€™s vote was a vote was for a record investment in border security.Â It was a vote for a stronger economy thatâ€™s fair to our taxpayers and workers.Â And it was a vote for Americaâ€™s rich immigrant history and future strength. There are big challenges ahead, but we are more determined than ever.Â Â We must remember that at the heart of this issue is work.Â Immigrants come to this country to work.Â They come to this country for a better life for themselves and their families – - a chance at the American dream.â€
The problem for supporters of this bill is that one little push too far can send the bill tumbling off the wall like Humpty Dumpty. It could leave their fragile coalition broken and never to be put back together again. I agree with Bush and Kennedy, in principle that we do need to do something to get the 11-13 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. out of the shadows. I just donâ€™t think that this patchwork bill of odds and ends is the way to do it.
My biggest problem with the bill is that both the guest worker and path to citizenship plans wonâ€™t work. The fines are too steep. The process takes too long, and there is no incentive for illegal immigrants who are already in this country to participate in the programs. This bill could make the problem worse by driving more illegal immigrants underground. In my opinion, this bill is designed to help the presidentâ€™s legacy and the candidates next fall, not the illegal immigrants, and this is the biggest reason of all why I oppose it.
Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com. Â His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at