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Immigration Bill Has New Life In Senate

Claudia Hanson of Sebring, Fla., left, participated in a Mall rally against illegal immigration yesterday.
Claudia Hanson of Sebring, Fla., left, participated in a Mall rally against illegal immigration yesterday. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

"That $4 billion is a tremendous help," said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), one of the bill's negotiators and the chairman of the Republican National Committee. "It gives people confidence that security really will be there."

Negotiations on the bill stretched over five months, and the floor debate has already consumed two weeks of a packed Senate schedule. The bill would link new border controls and a crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants with provisions to grant legal status to the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country, to clear the backlog of hundreds of thousands of immigration applications, and to shift the emphasis of future immigration from family ties to job skills and higher education levels.

Reid has absorbed withering criticism for his decision to yank the bill from the floor last week after a vote to cut off debate received just 45 votes, well short of the 60 needed to move to a vote on final passage. But he said he could not continue to push the legislation if opponents persisted in offering amendment after amendment to, in effect, filibuster the bill.

With a finite list of amendments in hand, Reid promised last night to bring the bill back after the Senate completes work on an energy bill, probably by next Thursday.

Senate opponents showed no sign of acquiescing to the deal. "I appreciate the effort to fund border security, but there's simply no reason why we should be forced to tie amnesty to it," Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said of the president's pledge.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a bill negotiator who has edged away from it, said he, too, wants to "decouple" funding for border security from the broader issues of immigration, saying Bush should send up a separate emergency spending bill before the full package comes back to the floor.

But the bill's Republican supporters in the Senate said they are confident that they will win final passage. The measure, however, still has a steep road ahead. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she is committed to move on an immigration plan next month if the Senate bill passes. But she has made it clear that Bush would have to deliver at least 70 GOP votes to win passage for legislation that is sure to split the Democratic caucus.

House Republicans showed no sign of tempering their opposition yesterday, even after senators backed the immediate infusion of funds for border security.

"Only in Washington would people believe that throwing money at the problem is going to solve it," said Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.), who is leading the opposition. "This is a blatant attempt by senators to extort votes so they can fast-track an amnesty plan."

Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.

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