Bill Could Still Move Forward, Activists Say
By Elena Shore
The Senate vote was
only a temporary setback for immigration reform,
say immigrant rights advocates from Washington,
“I would not begin to declare this dead,”
said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National
Immigration Forum, during New America Media’s
latest biweekly, telephonic press conference on
Monday, June 11. If taken up again “the bill
in the Senate needs two days at most on the Senate
Last week, the US Senate appeared closer than ever
to voting on comprehensive immigration reform. But
when the Senate was unable to get the 60 votes it
needed to table the discussion on Thursday, it essentially
stalled the bill before it could come to a vote.
How this happened and what it means for the possibility
of immigration reform in the near future was the
subject of Access Washington, NAM’s press
conference for ethnic media.
The bill was progressing smoothly through the Senate,
which considered more than 30 amendments, until
it was stalled by a mini-filibuster, Kelley said.
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, of South Carolina, and
Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, refused to cede the floor
to permit any more amendments to be voted on.
Democratic majority leader Sen. Harry Reid then
pushed for a vote on cloture, which would have limited
the debate to 30 more hours before the Senate held
a final yes-or-no vote on the bill. To win cloture,
the Senate needed 60 votes. Cloture failed, meaning
the debate could go on forever.
President Bush met with the Republican Caucus Tuesday,
June 12 to shore up some of these votes to end the
debate and move to a vote.
Republicans say that in order to give their support
for the bill, certain changes have to be
made. However, the bill’s “move to the
right” has already raised concerns among those
who support family reunification, according to Karen
Narasaki of the Asian American Justice Center.
Four amendments to the bill that would have protected
family reunification, written by Sen. Robert Menendez
(D-NJ), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Christopher Dodd
(D-CT) and Barack Obama (D-IL), were defeated in
Senators Menendez and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) introduced
an amendment to extend the cutoff date for legal
immigrant applicants. This would have included more
than 800,000 additional families. Despite receiving
51 votes, the Menendez-Hagel Amendment did not get
the 60 votes required by a procedural motion filed
by Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona.
An amendment introduced by Sen. Clinton would have
categorized spouses and unmarried minor children
of legal permanent residents as “immediate
relatives.” Sen. Dodd introduced an amendment
for parents to increase the number of visas from
40,000 to 90,000. The Senate also rejected an amendment
by Sen. Obama, which would have given Congress an
opportunity to revisit the new point system after
The Senate also passed two counter-amendments that
have riled immigrant communities.
An amendment introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex.,
will erode confidentiality for people who come forward
under the legalization provision. Sen. Jon Kyl,
R-Ariz., introduced an amendment requiring that
sponsored immigrants have a “reasonable expectation”
of receiving a visa in the next 20 years.
Some call Kyl’s amendment, which passed by
a vote of 51-45, the “anti-Asian amendment,”
Narasaki says, because it will hurt married adult
children and adult siblings of US citizens.
In 2005, more than half of the nearly 150,000 family
preference immigrant visas issued by the US State
Department were for immigrants from Asian countries,
the majority of them (63 percent) brothers and sisters
of US citizens. Siblings of US citizens from China
(10,478 visas), India (12,101 visas), and Vietnam
(8,485) received the highest number of visas through
the family system.
Despite its concerns over family reunification,
the Asian American community is also worried that
Congress may not move forward with the immigration
bill, Narasaki said. More than 10 percent of Asian
Americans are undocumented, she said. Many Asian
Americans, especially Korean youth, are pushing
hard for the passage of the Dream Act, included
in the immigration bill, to give undocumented students
a path towards citizenship.
When Asian American leaders met with the White House
last Friday, they were told that some amendments
had gone too far and the White House was working
with Sen. Kyl., Narasaki said.
If the Senate takes up the immigration bill again,
it will reappear exactly as it left off, according
to Kelley. There is talk of entertaining 10 more
amendments from each side of the aisle, she says,
as well as introducing one amendment to correct
some of the more “damaging” provisions,
such as those introduced by Sen. Kyl and Cornyn.
“I would be flabbergasted if a bill could
pass in five years – when we’ll have
20 to 25 million undocumented immigrants –
that doesn’t require subsequent legislation,”
Kelley said. “It’s the nature of the
beast that it must be a comprehensive bill.”
For immigration reform to pass, the House of Representatives
and the Senate must each come up with their own
bill. The bills would then be worked through in
a committee to come up with a compromise.
“The House operates very differently from
the Senate,” Kelley said. “Democratic
control is an enormous lever. The Senate has arcane
rules: a couple of senators can cause a lot of chaos,
as you saw last week.” The House Rules Committee,
meanwhile, is controlled by Democrats, and, Kelley
says, “stacked in their favor,” leading
many to be optimistic about the House’s chances
of passing an immigration reform bill.
“If Congress doesn’t pass immigration
reform in 2007,” Kelley warned, “it
is very unlikely that we’ll see it in 2008.
So we’ll have to start from the beginning
in 2009.” The cost of waiting is enormous,
she added: “Thousands more will die in the
desert, families will be separated due to raids,
and the 12 million undocumented immigrants will
continue to live in uncertainty.”
A large number of anti-immigrant activists have
campaigned through phone calls and emails to stymie
the possibility of immigration reform, said Rich
Stolz of the Center for Community Change. It’s
important for the immigrant community to speak out,
he said. “The immigrant community’s
impact has been underestimated.”
Last week, a petition opposing immigration reform
was delivered to Washington, DC, and Spanish-language
DJ El Piolín will deliver letters to Congress
this week in support of reform. A major mobilization
for children and families was planned … to
call on Congress to move the bill forward.
“In Washington, it’s all about who looks
bad: which party is taking the blame” for
the derailment of the immigration reform bill, Kelley
said. “Some say (Democratic Senate majority
leader Harry) Reid pulled the bill too soon. Reid
says Republicans couldn’t get their act together.”
“Nobody wants to wear the albatross around
their neck” for being responsible for bringing
the bill down, Kelley said. “It’s a
big game of chicken and we’re just waiting
to see who’s going to blink first.”
- New America Media