US immigration bill alive and well, White House insists

Monday June 11, 2007

The White House insisted Sunday that radical plans to overhaul the US immigration system were not dead, amid calls for Republicans and Democrats to work hard to save a controversial bill.

The sweeping reform drive, backed by US President George W. Bush, to bring 12 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows, collapsed late Thursday after a night of high drama in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Democratic leader Harry Reid withdrew the landmark measure after senators, seeking to add amendments to the bill, voted twice within nine hours not to move it towards a final vote as he had demanded.

But Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who championed the legislation, insisted on CNN on Sunday: "This bill is alive and well, and we are more determined than ever to get it through.

"What happened is just a break, and people want more debate. They want a little bit more time. We probably need a couple of days more, I understand, from the senators."

White House spokesman Tony Snow agreed, saying the draft legislation, which some Republicans have slammed as nothing more than a sweeping amnesty for illegal immigrants, should be brought back before Congress.

Senate majority leader Reid "does have the ability to say we will go ahead and entertain these amendments. It's my understanding that a day or two's worth of debate will wrap it up," Snow told CBS news.

He insisted the draft text had already garnered strong support in the Congress and urged Reid to re-introduce it, and allow a full debate.

"Rather than finger-pointing, if Harry Reid is dedicated to this, it's got to be solved in a smart way. Why not go ahead and set aside those two days for debate?" Snow added on Fox News.

"We're not only going to get a bill, but we're going to get a better bill, and it will be one that answers the express objections of a lot of people."

But Reid's deputy in Senate, Richard Durbin, blamed Republicans for "bogging down" the bill, saying "there are four or five members on the Republican side who don't want a bill."

"So it will take some leadership on the Republican side to agree on the number of amendments, to agree that we're not going to waste more time and procedural slowdowns, and really get to the heart of the issue," he said on Fox News.

Bush, who has made the immigration reform a central priority of his second presidential term, is due to attend a Senate Republican policy lunch on Tuesday, following his trip to Europe.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl, the bill's conservative champion, agreed more debate was needed among Republicans, but predicted the bill could pass before Independence Day on July 4.

"All we have to do on the Republican side is sit down with those who have amendments, get those amendments in a reasonable package, not too many, but enough so all of the members can say they had their chance," Kyl told Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "Late Edition."

Democratic senator Evan Bayh said he believed Reid would try to give the bill another shot, but added it would take some hard work.

"That won't be easy. Every time you try and enforce the borders more, you offend people on the left. Whenever you try and regularize the status of people, you offend folk who want to enforce the border," he said on CNN.

The legislation had been characterized as the most sweeping overhaul of US laws on the subject in two decades.

The immigration "grand bargain" was aimed at granting a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, establishing a merit-based points system for future immigrants and a low-wage temporary worker program.

It included a border security crackdown, punishments for employers who hire illegal immigrants and an attempt to wipe out a backlog of visa applications from those who have gone through legal immigration channels.

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