Thursday, May 25, 2006

62-36 Bill Passes Senate

After much drama over the past 4-5 months, the Senate passed a patchwork immigration bill today.

A coalition of 62 Democrats and Republicans worked through most of their differences. The 36 dissenters were mostly hard-line immigration enforcers who object to what they see as amnesty for undocumented immigrants. (A related question: why did Senators Rockefeller and Salazar miss such a historic vote? Perhaps the sidelines are safer in this debate?). You can see the final votes by reading the Final Senate Roll Call.

After the flurry of the amendment process, a large part of the legalization program made it through intact. That means that 2/3 of undocumented people in the country today have a little better chance of getting some sort of immigration status. There are still nasty surprises in the bill, like 20,000 new detention beds, 300+ miles of a border wall, new methods to de-legalize thousands of DOCUMENTED immigrants. This poses a quandary for immigrant rights advocates.

The next test will be if the bill makes it through the Conference Committee where representatives will try to reconcile it with the infamous House bill HR 4437. Senator. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said what meaning people have been thinking: "it is still a 50-50 proposition to get a bill [through the conference committee and] on the president's desk".

At the end of the day, commentators are seeing this as a test of the Republican party. Senators claimed they were listening to their constituents but they seem to have heard different things. Reckoning day won't come until November with the mid-term elections.

Senators and representatives still have the Conference Committee to prove their mettle. Senator Specter admitted as much in closing statements today. "There is an important issue, political issue, about the ability of Republicans to govern," the Judiciary Committee chairman said. "There is an election in November, and our leadership positions as Republicans is on the line. And I think that will weigh heavily in the conference."