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Backers of Immigration Bill More Optimistic

For Republicans in the coalition, opposing such amendments will only increase the pressure they are facing at home. Over the break, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) were booed at their state party conventions. And President Bush's attempt to give Republicans political cover by praising the deal may have backfired. Republican opponents in the House now call the proposal the "Kennedy-Bush Amnesty" bill.

"I just know that we've got a tough week ahead of us," Kyl said.

But Kyl and several immigration lobbyists also point to a different dynamic. The bill's authors, as well as advocates of comprehensive immigration legislation, have been arguing that flawed as it is, the measure must go forward legislatively and eventually it will be fixed.

That dynamic is driven by certain realities: a two-year backlog of legal immigration applications, a workforce in the United States that is as much as 5 percent illegal, and a growing patchwork of conflicting state and local immigration ordinances that threaten to paralyze business.

"The glue that is keeping this process going is the absolute agreement by all the disparate groups that the current system is absolutely dysfunctional," said Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But as it moves forward, the deal has taken on a life of its own. Senators from both parties have already taken political hits over their stands on the bill and on amendments to it. Even if advocacy groups withdraw their support, politicians will be loath to come out of the fight empty-handed.

If he pulls his support for the bill over a "killer" amendment, Kyl said, he will be accused of succumbing to right-wing threats, and he is not sure he can persuade enough colleagues to bolt with him. Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said his group is in the same position, saying it would bring the bill down if the Senate does not restore the family reunification system and give temporary workers a chance to appeal for citizenship. But such threats may carry no weight.

"We've been saying, 'Go forward, go forward, keep the process running' for so long, it's not realistic to think we can stop this after we've already made people take such difficult votes," Wilkes said. "I don't know how we got into the box that we've gotten into, but I don't see how we can find a winning hand."

Polling Director Jon Cohen and polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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