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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Immigration Deal: One Step Forward Onto a Garden Rake

The new immigration deal, which has barely been revealed in its details, survived a simple vote to proceed in the Senate, but amidst signs that it will be buffeted from almost every direction.39 Democrats and 30 Republicans voted for cloture on the motion to proceed on the deal; 5 Democrats and 18 Republicans voted against it. But all over the chamber, senators who voted both yea and nay vowed to change the deal in incompatible ways, as the Washington Post explained:

One of the first Republican amendments, by Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), would seek to make English the official language of the United States.An amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) would impose a hefty surcharge on illegal immigrants granted legal status to help states pay for the medical and educational services such immigrants would claim. Another from Cornyn would allow federal law enforcement agents to use information from visa applications to investigate allegations of fraud in the legalization process.Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) said she wants any immigration legislation to require illegal immigrants to return to their home country to apply for legal status.On the other side of the aisle, the biggest threats revolve around a temporary-worker program that would grant two-year work visas, renewable up to three times, as long as foreign workers leave the country between each two-year stint. Labor unions contend that the program would depress U.S. wages and create an underclass of abused foreign workers. Business groups say the structure of the program is unrealistic, since it guarantees instability in the labor supply.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), with the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), will move as soon as today to slash in half the number of temporary work visas, to 200,000 a year. Sens. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will try to strike the program from the bill altogether, and they are likely to pick up support from the Senate’s most liberal and most conservative members.

Senate managers of the bill have already given up on earlier plans to race the bill through the chamber before the Memorial Day recess. All hell is likely to break loose during the ensuing debate. And it looks less and less likely that the bill will survive the amendment battles with the 60 votes necessary to break a certain filibuster. And even if all that happens, Speaker Pelosi has made it clear the House is likely to pass a bill that doesn’t much resemble the Senate deal.I think we’re looking at 2009 for any genuine immigration reform effort.

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