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The terms of the immigration debate have turned less friendly for illegal immigrants as lawmakers and the Bush administration struggle to reach a deal in the next few weeks.
The landscape for an immigration overhaul has turned upside down in only a year, with a different party in control of Congress and new political realities for President Bush and the chief congressional negotiators.
Bush — in search of a domestic legacy — has morphed from cheerleader on the sidelines to broker in the fray, dispatching Cabinet members for lengthy daily meetings with senators on Capitol Hill.
A move toward the right
Last year’s GOP point man, Sen. John McCain — whose moderate stance on immigration defined last year’s approach — is hanging back, wary of angering conservatives while he struggles to keep his presidential run going.
And while Republican divisions were highlighted last year, this time it’s Democrats — eager to show they can lead — whose fissures are on display.
In an ironic twist, the outlines of a potential deal have moved to the right — toward a more difficult road to citizenship for the nation’s roughly 12 million illegal immigrants — even as the power in Congress has shifted to Democrats, who overwhelmingly favor a more permissive approach.
The White House has floated a proposal that would require illegal immigrants to pay fines as high as $10,000, face long waits and return to their home countries in order to be eligible for citizenship — far tougher conditions than in a bipartisan measure passed by the Senate last year and backed by Bush. The immigrants also would be denied a right to bring family members to the United States.
The changes reflect a new political calculus for Republicans, who fear that any plan passed by the centrist Senate will become more permissive toward immigrants in the more liberal House and during final Democratic-dominated negotiations.
Democrats, in turn, recognize that any immigration plan must have substantial GOP support in order to have a chance of being signed into law, so they are considering tougher measures. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has told Bush he must deliver 70 Republican votes before she will attempt to pass any immigration bill.
As Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., his party’s point man on the issue, huddles with Republicans and Bush’s team in search of a deal, other Democrats are impatient to pitch their own, more immigrant-friendly plan. Many advocates of an overhaul, including immigrant advocacy groups, business interests and organized labor, are adamantly opposed to the framework under discussion.
(Posted on April 13, 2007)