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Immigration Debate Resumes

June 6, 2007

More than 100 amendments have been filed on an immigration reform bill being considered in the U.S. Senate, prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Tuesday to threaten to try to limit debate on the legislation, and vote later this week.

Responding to Republican threats of a filibuster, Reid (D-Nev.) said he would pull the bill and move on to other issues should he fail to get the required 60 votes needed for cloture.

The warnings, which would effectively drag the effort to fix the nation's immigration system back to square one, kicked off another contentious round of discussion on the floor after the Senate took a weeklong recess last week.

With some members anxious to move past the bill that has drawn ire from constituents in both major parties, others worked behind the scenes to push for amendments that would cut into each of the bill's three main prongs.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tx.) sought Tuesday to rally votes for an amendment that would require heads of households of illegal immigrant families to return to their countries to apply for the Z-visas. Currently, the bill requires such a step only for Z-visa holders wanting to apply for green cards.

She is among several conservatives hoping to limit the path to legalization offered under the bill to the nation's approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants, with other proposals seeking to deny legal status to illegal immigrants who have defied deportation orders.

Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to carve into a proposed point system for legal immigration that would weigh job skills and education over family ties to those in the U.S.

Their proposals include one by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Il.) that seeks to phase out the point system after five years, and another by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) that would exempt more spouses and minor children of legal residents from visa caps.

In a 62-31 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Co.) that sought to do away with a "supplementary schedule" of extra points that could be awarded to illegal immigrants who earn legal status and then seek permanent residence. That provision was geared toward low-skilled agricultural workers.

The Senate, however, did approve an amendment that would place new restrictions on a temporary worker program that would bring in 200,000 foreign laborers per year.

That amendment, introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Il.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Ia.), requires employers, in all cases, to try to recruit American workers before hiring foreign workers. It passed 71-22.

Several other provisions are still being negotiated behind the scenes as a self imposed deadline for a vote by week's end approaches, though many of them are considered to be "deal breakers" by the bill's chief architects.