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Senate Gives New Life to Immigration Bill

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

The Senate resumes debate today on the immigration bill after voting to bring it back to the floor. The measure provides a path to citizenship for the nation's 12 million undocumented workers. It also tightens border security, if it passes. But the legislative road will be anything but smooth, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The 64 to 35 vote was on procedural motion, and so may have exaggerated support for the measure in the Senate. Still, those who backed the bill were happy to declare victory, even if it's a temporary one. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised the measure after yesterday's vote.

Senator HARRY REID (Democratic, Nevada): It's a good bill. And I would hope that everyone understands that we can't leave the system as it is now. Gee whiz. The present system is not working.

NAYLOR: The bill's opponents, meanwhile, noted that all they need to do is switch a handful of yeas to nays by Thursday, when another key vote is scheduled to kill the measure. Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota is one of those opponents.

Senator JOHN THUNE (Republican, South Dakota): Maybe there'll be enough forward momentum generated now behind this that something will happen, but I'd say that's going to be a long shot.

NAYLOR: The odds for passage are long because so is the list of amendments that senators will consider before voting to cut off debate on the bill. Some are intended to make the bill more palatable to conservatives. One would change a major provision in the legislation and require all the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to return to their native countries to apply for a temporary Z-visa.

The original proposal called for the touchback provision to apply only to those who were seeking permanent U.S. residency. If that were approved, it would likely drive many Democrats from the bill, but a Democratic amendment giving family ties more weight in the bills merit-based visa system would likely diminish Republican support.

And when Majority Leader Reid tried to move to the amendments last night, conservative Republicans objected, saying they hadn't had enough time to look at the proposals, forcing the clerk to read them aloud.

Unidentified Woman: Title, non-immigrants in the United States previously in unlawful status. Subtitle A. Z non-immigrants.

NAYLOR: After about an hour the conservatives relented, but their delaying tactics illustrate the fragile nature of the immigration coalition and the potential roadblocks ahead for the bill.

Brian Naylor, NPR New, The Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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