Tentative agreement reached on immigration
Key senators come to terms on plan to revive stalled bill
Immigration debate hot nationwide
June 14: The rolling hills of North Carolina are nowhere near America’s southern border. But even here the debate about immigration runs red hot. NBC’s David Gregory reports.
WASHINGTON – Senate leaders agreed Thursday night to revive stalled immigration legislation, capping a furious weeklong rescue attempt that drew President Bush’s personal involvement.
"The leaders have agreed on a way forward," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The measure, sidetracked a week ago, is expected to return to the Senate floor for additional debate as early as next week.
The legislation has generated intense controversy, particularly for provisions envisioning eventual citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million immigrants now in the country unlawfully. The bill also calls for greater border security and a crackdown on the hiring of illegal employees.
No guarantee of passage
The decision to revive the measure does not necessarily portend passage in the Senate. Critics of the measure have denounced it as conferring amnesty on millions of lawbreakers, and it remains unclear how strenuously they will attempt to prevent its approval.
The decision to bring the bill back for more debate was made at a meeting involving Reid, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and key supporters of the legislation.
McConnell left the closed-door meeting without speaking with reporters.
But several officials said the decision had been made to make one additional stab at passing the measure, which is Bush’s top domestic priority.
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Bush was overseas the first few days after the bill was sidetracked last week, but he returned Monday night and immediately plunged into the rescue effort. He met with Republican senators in the Capitol on Tuesday, and on Thursday said he would support a call for $4.4 billion in immediate funding aimed at "securing our borders and enforcing our laws at the work site."
Precise details of the rescue plan were not immediately disclosed.
In general, according to officials familiar with the discussions, the bill’s supporters had recommended giving both Republicans and Democrats roughly a dozen chances each to amend the measure, with the hope that they would then combine to provide the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by die-hard opponents.
Officials also said the Bush-backed plan for accelerated funding would be among the changes to be voted on. So, too, a proposal by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to toughen a requirement for illegal immigrants to return to their home country before gaining legal status.
But in a gauge of the complexity of the rescue effort, officials said the Senate’s decision last week to terminate a temporary worker program after five years would likely not be subject to change before a vote on final passage. Many of the bill’s strongest supporters opposed the five-year provision when it came to a vote last week.