WASHINGTON — President Bush says he wants an immigration bill this year. So do the top Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. Other supporters range from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Service Employees International Union.
Seldom has legislation received such high-profile backers from across such a broad ideological spectrum. And seldom has legislation with such powerful backing faced such an uphill battle.
Behind the scenes, both on and off Capitol Hill, efforts have been underway for weeks to build momentum for a sweeping new immigration law designed to eliminate the nation's underground economy by intensifying security along the nation's borders, broadening opportunities for foreigners to work in the USA and legalizing many of the 12 million people who live in the country illegally.
Those efforts hit a bump in the road this week when a bipartisan group working to draft a bill — Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. and John McCain, R-Ariz., and Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. — postponed efforts to reach a deal.
Kennedy told USA TODAY on Tuesday he plans to use immigration legislation the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last year as the starting point. He said "rather than having a new departure," advocates for the immigration overhaul "would save ourselves a lot of time" by beginning work on last year's bill.
The decision marks a change in strategy for the foursome, who have been working on the immigration legislation with the hope of winning Senate passage before the end of May. Last week, Gutierrez told reporters they would unveil legislation shortly. "We are going to keep it bipartisan and bicameral," he said.