Immigration Compromise Faces New Opposition

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Senate voted last night to move forward on an overhaul of immigration laws, but even proponents of the delicate compromise proposal conceded that the furor over the deal was surpassing their expectations and endangering the plan.

The 69 to 23 vote masked deep troubles from the right flank of the Senate, as well as from the left. Opponents of even conducting a debate on the measure included some unexpected voices, such as freshman Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Bernard Sanders, an independent liberal from Vermont. Several conservatives -- and some liberals -- made it clear that they cast a vote to proceed only in order to fundamentally change the proposed legislation in the coming days.

With dozens of amendments planned, traps being laid by opponents could upset the fragile coalition that drafted the measure. What's more, Senate leaders gave up hope last night that they could pass the bill this week, ensuring it will be left hanging over a week-long Memorial Day recess. That will allow the opposition to gather strength before a final vote can be scheduled next month.

"Our plan is a compromise. It involved give-and-take in the best traditions of the United States Senate. For each of us who crafted it, there are elements that we strongly support and elements we believe could be improved. No one believes this is a perfect bill," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), the deal's chief Democratic architect. "The world is watching to see how we respond to the current crisis. Let's not disappoint them."

Senate leadership aides said yesterday that the proposal could probably muster the support of about 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats -- just enough to beat a filibuster, which was all but promised yesterday by conservatives.

The bill would grant legal status to virtually all the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the country, create a temporary-worker program, tighten border controls, crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and create a point system for future immigration to de-emphasize family ties in favor of educational attainment and work skills.

About a dozen senators who drafted the compromise are to meet every day this week to review amendments.

"The grand bargainers will hold together," ventured Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a lead negotiator, "but there are not 51 of us."

Supporters had expected opposition from both ends of the political spectrum. But they conceded they were taken aback by the furious response over the weekend, especially from conservatives, who declared that the legislation is nothing short of amnesty for lawbreakers.

"This bill is compromising to the country's economy, national security and very foundation of a democracy rooted in the rule of law," said Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).

Worse still, business groups expected to provide muscle to push the bill have instead voiced opposition. Business groups have called the temporary-worker program impractical. They have also protested a provision that would force employers to verify the legal status of every worker in the country, and have said a point system for permanent-residence visas, or green cards, would deprive them of the ability to bring in foreign workers with distinct skills they need.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has signaled that any immigration bill clearing the chamber this summer is likely to look considerably different from a Senate bill designed to attract Republican votes.

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