Congress should try again soon on immigration reform
Senators have postponed action on immigration reform because of their failure to get past a procedural hurdle.
IMMIGRATION reform collapsed this week in the Senate, but Congress should not allow the continuing nightmare of illegal immigration to persist. A bipartisan group of a dozen senators who arrived at a compromise that included increased border enforcement and legal status for undocumented workers failed to account for sabotage on the issue. They need to be better prepared next time.
Only 45 senators voted in favor of ending debate and bringing the bill to a final vote -- a whopping 15 votes short of the 60 needed under the Senate's procedural rule to reach cloture. Both the Senate and House had approved immigration bills last year but House Republicans refused to convene a conference committee because of the Senate version's proposed road to citizenship.
Republicans wanted more opportunities to propose amending the bill on the Senate floor in the past two weeks, although Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he had been "bending over backwards" to allow them to do so.
Some of the amendments were unvarnished attempts to merely undermine the proposed reforms. For example, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, sought to expand the type of criminal offenses that would disqualify an illegal immigrant from legalization to include having entered the country illegally.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to limit the bill's guest-worker program to five years was regarded as such a "poison pill," although some senators saw it as an improvement aimed at preventing the stream of temporary guest workers from eroding the wages of low-income American workers.
Most Democrats, including Sen. Daniel Inouye, voted for the amendment. The reform bill's chief architect, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., voted against the change, as did Sen. Daniel Akaka, in order to keep the compromise bill intact. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., candidly voted for the amendment as a poison pill.
"If it hurts the bill, I'm for it," he said. The amendment was approved, 49-48.
The bill's sponsors, Democrats and Republicans alike, appeared to be unprepared for such skullduggery. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell scolded Reid for "giving up on the bill too soon."
Sponsors of the bill must prepare more thoroughly for their next attempt, which Reid said could come "in the next several weeks."
President Bush, a strong advocate for immigration reform, was attending a G-8 conference in Europe when the Senate showdown occurred. Democrats wished he had been there to encourage GOP senators to support the bill, but the president seems to lack leverage within his party on this issue.