But the Senate’s massive proposal to radically overhaul the nation’s broken immigration system is taking lots of fire this week.
And what was expected to be rapid progress to a vote in the Senate is now going to take a couple of weeks at least.
Still, the emergence last week of a bipartisan bill, even one weighing in at 380 pages, was being greeted by reform advocates, even as many in the reform camp were expressing concern at some of the its proposals.
Indeed, there is not a single idea in the bill that is not drawing fire from some quarter and the expectation this week is that a bill, if any, that ultimately emerges from the Senate, could be a significantly altered version of a measure that is in large part the work of Democrat Edward Kennedy and Republican Jon Kyl backed by about a dozen other senators from both parties.
The bill is being backed by the White House, and by Senator John McCain, who would appear to be taking a more pro-reform stance on Capitol Hill than he has been recently on the presidential campaign trail.
“I’m sure there are provisions [many] of us would not agree with. [But] this is what negotiation is all about. We can, and must, complete this legislation sooner rather than later,” the Boston Globe reported McCain as saying after the bill’s birth was announced last week.
Senator Kennedy, who, according to the Globe, was pivotal in pushing the bill into the open following late night negotiations on Wednesday, May 16, described the work ahead as a “solemn task.”
“Our immigration system is adrift and urgently needs an overhaul from top to bottom. The answers are not simple or easy. We cannot meet this challenge by simply building fences. We need comprehensive and common sense solutions that meet the immigration needs of this century.
Kennedy said that in working for reform he was reminded of his Irish great-grandparents.
“They walked up to Boston’s Immigration Hall on their way to a better life for themselves and their families.”
The problem facing reformers this week, however, is the task of creating better lives for millions of immigrants with a bill that even stalwart reform advocates regard as being deeply flawed.
Critically, the bill offers a path to legalization that could prove beneficial to the Irish in the form of a four-year “Z” visa.
This visa would be comparatively easy to obtain but in a tease certain to further aggravate many undocumented Irish, anyone securing one would have to wait a year before being allowed travel freely in and out of the U.S.
The Z visa provision would apply to undocumented immigrants in the country before Jan. 1, 2007. It would follow payment of a $5,000 fine, includes a so-called “touchback” clause and will eventually lead individuals to a place at the back of a long line for legal status and ultimately citizenship.
The provision of a path to legalization immediately raised accusations that the bill was offering an amnesty to lawbreakers and it is this view around which Senate opponents will galvanize their arguments in the coming days leading up to the expected post-Memorial Day Senate vote.
Pro-reform legislators and organizations have separately raised concerns over the bill’s proposed guest worker plan and changes to the priority given to uniting families provided by current immigration law.
The New York Times went to far as to state in an editorial that the bill should be rejected if it can’t be improved during the Senate debate.
“If it is not, it should be rejected as worse than a bad status quo,” the paper stated.
Irish-American leaders and lobbying organizations were, by contrast, looking ahead to passage of the bill.
“This development in the Senate puts comprehensive immigration reform back on track, and may be the shot needed to achieve real results this year,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, a co-sponsor of the matching House reform bill, the so-called STRIVE Act.
“While this news is encouraging, the devil lies in the details of the proposal that the Senate puts forward. A successful immigration policy must offer a realistic solution that protects our national security, economic security and the security of our families and communities,” Crowley said.
The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform welcomed the bill, and the agreement between the senators who crafted it and the White House.
“We believe a significant hurdle has been cleared, however, we know that the work has just begun and we will be studying the proposed bill in great detail.
“We want to thank the members of both parties and President Bush for the tireless effort they have put in to this bipartisan effort. We look forward to working with them in the future,” ILIR said in a statement
The group’s executive director, Kelly Fincham, said that the extended Senate debate would allow ILIR to gear up its campaign in the next few days.
“It’s very important that we keep our foot to the pedal over the Memorial Day recess. We’re lobbying hard for work and travel,” Fincham said.
Ancient Order of Hibernians national president, Jack Meehan, welcomed the senate bill. “This issue is much too important to get bogged down in partisan wrangling which serves neither our nation nor the sizeable community of undocumented Irish
who have lived too long in the shadow of America’s promise,” Meehan said.
“I urge all Hibernians to contact their legislators urging their support as the bill moves through the legislative process,” Meehan said.