Immigration 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, DC.
“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 floor.”
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 the Senate.
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 five years.
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

 

 


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