Senate Veteran: Immigration Reform Inevitable
For Sen. Ted Kennedy, the fight to reform America's immigration laws is just like those legendary civil rights battles of the 1960s or the battle over rights for the disabled. Change doesn't come easy, but it's inevitable.
Yes, the latest attempt at comprehensive immigration reform—enhancing border security, putting the millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S. on a path to citizenship, setting up a larger guest-worker program, increasing the number of visas for skilled workers, and so forth—collapsed in the Senate. And no, there aren't many signs that lawmakers want to resuscitate it before the next president takes office in 2009.
But, Kennedy stammered at a post-mortem press conference, immigration reform is part of the "march of progress for our nation...This kind of issue can only be done in the United States Senate. You cannot stop the march."
You can certainly prolong it, though. The vote in the Senate wasn't even on the final bill, just a procedural item, and it failed badly. The center—Republicans, Democratic lions like Kennedy, and President Bush—was holding, but the ends sure weren't. Fifteen Democrats voted against their party and 37 Republicans and one independent were opposed. Had the final vote truly been in question, Reid says he could have swung another four or five of his brethren over to the "yes" column. But whatever the slicing and dicing of the math, the votes just weren't there: So many Senators' offices were inundated with calls, mostly in opposition, that the Senate telephone switchboard was shut down.
"I am very disappointed," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "We gave it the old college try." President Bush, wishing to accomplish a key part of his agenda, what would have been perhaps the biggest domestic victory of his presidency, was disgruntled with "Congress's failure to act."
Who's to blame? Of course the senators tried their best not to point fingers. The president, Reid said, was out front on the issue. But what about Reid's own party? Even the labor unions weren't totally on board. "Don't be focusing the attention on Democrats," he grumbled to the press. Nancy Pelosi was more willing to criticize by way of press statement: "Republicans in the Senate blocked a bill that attempted to fix our nation's dysfunctional immigration system. In doing so, they have failed the American people."
Differences aside, Senators on both sides of the vote agreed on one thing: Immigration problems aren't going away. "We still have a problem we need to fix," said Republican Sen. Jim Demint of South Carolina, who strongly opposed the bill. Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said, "For those who are worried about illegal immigrants and the numbers, there won't be 12 million next year, but 14 million and 20 million and 25 million in later years."
The opportunity to fix the problems, has however, passed. There is an outside chance that some piecemeal changes to immigration law may indeed come to fruition, but not anytime soon, and not as part of a "grand bargain", comprehensive approach. A few senators were talking of considering some parts of the bill—the part to beef up border security, perhaps, or the provision to increase the number of visas for skilled workers. Wishful thinking most likely, or just unwillingness to concede little or nothing will get done in Washington in the weeks and months ahead.