May 11, 2007
Immigration Deal in Peril
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 1:56 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Efforts to reach an immigration compromise faltered Thursday as Democrats and Republicans staked out divergent positions and prepared to blame each other for scuttling the best chance for a broad overhaul this year.
Talks continued on a possible deal that would tie residency for millions of illegal immigrants to tougher border security and a crackdown on employing undocumented workers. At the same time, however, Republicans and Democrats set the stage for a partisan battle next week that could squash any agreement.
Democrats plan to force a debate starting Tuesday on last year's Senate-passed immigration measure. Most Democrats supported that plan, which a majority of Republican senators opposed.
The move is designed to pressure Republicans to cut a deal or risk being blamed for undermining one.
President Bush is ''going to have to tell his Republicans, 'I want a bill,''' said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. ''If we lose this opportunity to do immigration reform, (Bush) can't go around the country saying, 'I believe in comprehensive immigration reform.'''
GOP senators are promising to block the move, saying the series of secretive talks attended by the White House and a few Democrats needed more time to yield a compromise.
''It would be a shame if that arbitrary deadline resulted in the process coming to a halt,'' said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the No. 3 GOP leader.
The developing impasse could prevent the Senate from even opening debate next week on reshaping immigration laws.
The issue is fraught with political risks and rewards for both parties and is a priority for Bush. Absent a bipartisan deal, Democrats would almost certainly be unable to get the 60 votes they would need to overcome GOP opposition and bring up the bill, which was to be considered over the next two weeks.
Bush will continue to speak in favor of comprehensive changes in immigration policy and urge Congress to enact legislation he can sign into law this year, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said in a statement.
''Top members of his staff and Cabinet meet almost daily with senators from both parties to work out the details of a comprehensive immigration reform package that will attract broad bipartisan support,'' Stanzel said.
For some lawmakers, their appetite for a bargain is waning.
The GOP position has ''moved far to the right'' since last year, said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who has attended the talks.
''We have serious concerns about the workability and fairness of certain elements of the White House plan,'' Menendez added. He said the GOP proposal was ''a huge step backward'' from the 2006 measure, which 23 Republicans supported.
Talks have bogged down in a tangle of details. That has led officials in both parties to play down the chances for a breakthrough.
Publicly, Republicans remained sunny about the prospects of a compromise, reluctant to be seen as obstacles to achieving an item that polls show has broad support.
''I think it's pretty clear that the vast majority of Republicans want an immigration bill,'' said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats are concerned the emerging bipartisan measure is going too far to placate GOP conservatives at the risk of alienating Democrats.
''Our frustration is, we look around the table of the negotiators, and they are trying to please Republican senators who were totally opposed to comprehensive immigration reform,'' said Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat. ''As a consequence, they are leaving behind a lot of mainstream Democrats and Republicans.''
Republicans, many of whom considered last year's measure unduly lenient toward illegal immigrants, said they were bent on supporting the new approach under discussion in the bipartisan talks.
Modeled after a White House draft circulated in late March, it would impose large fines, long waits and trips home on illegal immigrants seeking to gain legal status. It would shift the immigration system toward one based more heavily on skills and employment criteria, eliminating or curtailing opportunities for immigrants to bring their families to the U.S.
''Republicans need to stand firm for this framework,'' said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. ''The danger for Republicans would be that somehow they felt weak and defensive, and accepted so many compromises on this framework that it really is not true to the ideals it proposes.''
The negotiations have been extraordinarily sensitive for both sides. Democrats are wary of committing to anything stricter than last year's bill. Republicans are concerned about embracing anything that gives illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship -- decried by conservatives as ''amnesty.''
NEW YORK TIMES