Immigration debate roils anew
By: Carrie Budoff Brown
September 25, 2007 06:32 AM EST
As the Senate prepares to vote on an immigration measure this week, senators are being forced back into politically treacherous territory on the controversial question of amnesty. In many ways, the debate is a mini-version of the free-for-all that consumed the doomed comprehensive bill in June.
Legalization opponents and supporters are picking up where they left off earlier this year, flooding congressional offices and Internet blogs with talking points on the latest legislation.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) has been trying for years to stitch together a bipartisan coalition for a narrower measure that he calls the DREAM Act. It would give illegal immigrants who were brought to the country at 15 years old or younger — and have remained here for at least five years — a path to citizenship if they go to college or enter the military.
“The fundamental premise,” Durbin said on the floor last week, “is that we shouldn’t punish children for the mistakes their parents made. That isn’t the American way. The DREAM Act says to these students: America is going to give you a chance. It won’t be easy, but you can earn your way into legal status.”
Durbin is offering the measure as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill, in part because it could ease strains on military recruiting.
An opponent of the most recent comprehensive bill, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), signed on as a co-sponsor last week, joining Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and a dozen Democrats.
But with anti-immigration groups calling the amendment “amnesty on the installment plan,” passage is far from assured in a chamber that operates on a 60-vote threshold.
NumbersUSA, the group that helped derail the comprehensive bill that would have offered legal status to the existing 12 million illegal immigrants, posted on its website a tally of its “anti-amnesty champions.” So far, 21 senators have signaled to NumbersUSA that they will oppose the amendment. The group is looking for 20 more senators to block it.
“If you were to pass another amnesty, you would only encourage more illegal behavior because it is seen as a reward,” said Caroline Espinosa, a spokeswoman for NumbersUSA, which claims credit for more than 260,000 faxes sent by its supporters to Congress in the past week.
Proponents of the measure dispute the amnesty argument, saying it applies only to illegal immigrants who have been in the country for five years at the time of the bill’s enactment.
The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization, estimates that 360,000 undocumented students would become immediately eligible for conditional legal status. An additional 65,000 could be added to the pool annually, the group found.
Like previous battles, advocates on both sides of the issue have been pressing Congress, blasting e-mails to supporters and asking them to contact senators. The office of Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), one of the members being targeted by both sides, reported a spike in calls starting last Monday.
The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform attempted to counter its opponents, pleading with members in an e-mail last Tuesday: “We need your calls beginning NOW, before senators get the idea (again) that they only hear from anti-immigrant constituents, and that they should play it safe and vote against the amendment.”
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