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Immigration Legislation Revived in Congress

Not everyone welcomed the return of immigration legislation working its way through the Senate. Republican Representative Virgil Goode speaks near the Washington Monument during a rally sponsored by the Minutemen Project.
Paul J. Richards
AFP/Getty Images
Not everyone welcomed the return of immigration legislation working its way through the Senate. Republican Representative Virgil Goode speaks near the Washington Monument during a rally sponsored by the Minutemen Project.

The immigration bill is back from the dead. On Friday, President Bush, speaking at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, once again called on Congress to pass it. On Thursday night, Senate leaders agreed to return to the measure, perhaps as soon as next week. But there is no guarantee that the legislation will get through — or what it will look like.

The president told the Prayer Breakfast that each day that the nation fails to act on immigration, the problem only grows worse. Mr. Bush used religious terms as he appealed to lawmakers.

"We must meet our moral obligation to treat newcomers with decency and show compassion to the vulnerable and exploited," the president said, "because we're called to answer both the demands of justice and the call for mercy. Most Americans agree on these principles." He added, "Now it's time for our elected leaders in Congress to act."

The president's speech Friday morning came just three days after he made a rare appearance on Capitol Hill at a lunch with Senate Republicans, breathing new life into a process that had been all but left for dead. After a day of intense negotiations between authors of the Senate bill, Senate leaders from both parties issued a terse statement Thursday night saying the bill would be brought back to the floor.

Republicans had been insisting that they be allowed to offer a dozen or so amendments to the immigration measure. Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), one of the measure's sponsors, said it is still uncertain what those amendments might be.

"I think there is an agreement there will be 10 amendments," Salazar said. "Exactly what those amendments will be, and what's included in those amendments — I think [that] is something that will be talked about over the next week."

One amendment that appears all but certain to be offered: A provision, backed by President Bush, that would add $4.4 billion to the measure to immediately upgrade border security and enforcement.

The money is meant to address a main concern of conservatives — that securing the border take precedence over legalizing the status of the 12 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S.

But opponents of the bill say the new spending still does not address their concerns.

"All the money in the world wont change policies," says Bob Dane, press secretary for FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "It won't change the unwillingness of this administration to enforce the laws, and it will not change the fact that, if passed, this is an amnesty bill."

Another controversial amendment, pushed by conservatives, would require undocumented immigrants to return to their home countries before applying for legal status in the U.S. That provision is opposed by pro-immigration groups.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) says it is hard to know at this point if the bill has a chance of passing.

"They're going to agree to amendments by Republicans and amendments offered by Democrats," Bingaman said. "And we'll see which of those get adopted, and whether or not that's enough to get the votes to pass the bill."

The Senate is expected to spend most of next week working on the energy bill and will not return to the immigration measure until late in the week.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.

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