But a final vote, which was expected before week’s end, could now be moved into next week, this as a result of the near 100 amendments being offered by both supporters and critics of S.1384, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007.
The resumed debate, which went into hiatus for the Memorial Day recess, was long fingered for a few hours on Tuesday so that senators could pay tribute to Senator Craig Thomas from Wyoming, who died Monday.
But the battle over reform is expected to dominate the remainder of the week with both supporters and opponents of the bill hammering away at various parts of it.
The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that supporters of the bill were expressing “guarded confidence” that it would pass “despite raging conservative criticism.”
Some of this criticism is not all conservative however, and is now coming from senators who were among the dozen or so who actually crafted S.1384.
Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey is apparently balking because the bill would reduce family reunification measures that exist in current immigration law.
Menendez is planning to introduce a series of amendments aimed at preserving reunification rules, but such a move would prompt strong opposition from critics whose support would be crucial if the bill is to eventually pave the way for the legalization of millions of illegals and undocumented, thousands of Irish among them.
Texas Republican John Cornyn, meanwhile, earlier introduced an amendment apparently aimed at preventing the legalization of people who have committed crimes.
But “crimes” in this context would include using a false social security number or leaving and reentering the U.S. illegally.
“Some people who used fake identity papers – a huge portion of the undocumented population – would be disqualified. The amendment would also expand the definition of ‘aggravated felonies,’ an already overbroad category of crimes, to include the act of entering or re-entering the country illegally,” the New York Times stated in an editorial strongly critical of the Cornyn amendment.
“Even more perversely, the amendment applies retroactively. So people who crossed illegally years ago – even those whose sentences have been suspended – would be subject to the drastic consequences of being declared ‘aggravated felons.’ They would face mandatory detention and deportation under already negligible protections of due process.
“This amendment is so far from the spirit of comprehensive reform that it amounts to legislative sabotage. It deserves to be decisively defeated,” the Times editorial concluded.
On Wednesday, the Cornyn amendment was defeated by 51 votes to 46.
Meanwhile, the expectation among well placed observers at presstime was that while the tone of the continuing debate is likely to be nothing short of rancorous, indeed bitter at times, the bill will hold together enough for a vote, possibly by week’s end, but more likely early next week.
A spokeswoman for Senator Edward Kennedy said that it would be up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to call for a “cloture vote.”
Such a move cuts off debate and moves along the process to the point where a bill is adopted or defeated. Sixty votes are required in the 100-member Senate to achieve cloture.
Significantly, an earlier vote on a provision in the bill to legalize the estimated 12 million illegal and undocumented was approved by the comfortable margin of 66 votes to 29, with five senators not voting.
If this tally is reflected in a final vote on the entire bill, S.1384 will pass muster and be put forward as the Senate’s offering in any future House/Senate conference negotiations.
Nevertheless, the Senate bill remains a risky bet in that just about every Senate member sees parts in it that he or she dislikes.
A vote for passage, then, be it this week or next, will be of necessity composed of a bipartisan coalition of senators supporting what they see as a reform bill that is anything but perfect.
In a statement Tuesday, Senator Kennedy delivered an impassioned plea for passage of the Senate bill.
“Over the past week, as the Senate has been in recess for Memorial Day, we’ve witnessed a healthy debate across the country as Americans across the political spectrum have expressed their views on this legislation,” Kennedy said.
And he continued: “Some support our legislation. Others oppose it. But with all the editorials and newspaper articles and phone calls from constituents, one theme comes through loud and strong. Americans know that our immigration system is broken and they want us to fix it.
“This week is our chance to meet that challenge for the good of the nation. We have a bipartisan bill before us. It has the support of the President. And I believe that when we complete our debate in the Senate, we will adopt it.
“It enforces our borders. It cracks down in the workplace by going after employers who hire illegal workers. It brings the 12 million families who are here out of the shadows. It speeds up the reunion of families waiting legally in line that otherwise may never make it here. And it sets up an immigration system for the future that continues to reunite families while stressing our nation’s economic needs.
“That’s our program. It’s strong. It’s practical. And it’s fair.”