Senate Game of Chicken to Start with S 2611

FIRM Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislative Update (5/10/07) From the Desk of FIRM Co-Director, Rich Stolz

Sen. Democrats announced on Wednesday that they would bring S 2611, the immigration bill that passed the full Senate last year.  But within hours Republican Senators Specter (PA), Graham (SC), McCain (AZ) and Martinez (FL) sent a letter to Majority Leader Reid indicating that they would only support a product of the negotiations coming out of the negotiations currently underway with the White House.  As early as next Tuesday, May 15, the Senate will vote on a motion to allow debate on S 2611; if it fails to get the required sixty votes, the debate on comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate will come to an abrupt halt, and all sides will have to rethink how to proceed.

FIRM has taken the position that S 2611 is an unacceptable proposal.  Last year, FIRM opposed S 2611 because it created a "tiered legalization" system - depending on when an undocumented immigrant entered the country, it would allow varying degrees of legal status, but immigrants that entered the country after January 2004 would not be allowed to receive legal status through the program.  FIRM also opposed the border and interior enforcement provisions in Title II, which closely resembled the language in the House-passed "Sensenbrenner Bill".  By Majority Leader Reid's calculations, S 2611 is the only bill the Democrats can bring to the Senate floor that has a chance of receiving enough votes to go to debate.  Because twenty-three Republicans voted for S 2611 last year, Reid's maneuver sets up a blame game - Democrats will say the Republicans are not interested in passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year; Republicans will say that Democrats gave up on a "grand bargain" that they could have gotten with the White House through bipartisan negotiations.

It does look, however, like these negotiations between the Democratic and Republican Senators and the White House will continue.  It's unclear whether the Democrats or Republicans are feeling more pressure to cave in.  Republicans are pushing for a high bar for a legalization program with significant delays to legal status for undocumented immigrants, are seeking to restrict family-based immigration and fundamentally changing the system to a merit point based system, and are opposed to granting legal status to temporary workers.  Democrats are being urged by grassroots groups and national advocates to fight for a broad legalization program, a path to citizenship for temporary workers, stronger worker protections, the preservation of the family-based immigration system, and due process protections.  Republicans are gambling on the fact that Democrats want a broad legalization program enough that they will bargain away other priorities.  Democrats are gambling on being able to blame the White House and Republicans for obstructing a bill in order to get the White House to give up their priorities.  Be wary of these negotiations, they don't look good from the standpoint of FIRM's principles.

The bottom line?  FIRM stands for a set of principles in comprehensive immigration reform, and we will continue to fight hard to get them.  Both Democrats and Republicans need to be held accountable for the current state of affairs in the immigration debate - Republicans for shifting too far to the right, Democrats for exercising poor strategic leadership on this issue, and potentially for giving up too much.  More information will go out shortly on strategies to try to break through this deadlock and political posturing.