Senators OK fence on border
Karl Rove, UFW's Huerta find they're on same side as they push
for adoption of comprehensive plan.
Michael Doyle -- Bee Washington Bureau
Published Thursday, May 18, 2006
Story appeared on Page A18 of The Bee
WASHINGTON -- Immigration reform on Wednesday united Karl Rove and
Dolores Huerta, two polar opposites who now find themselves teammates in
the year's most divisive political fight.
The unusual two-stepping occurred as the Senate continued modifying its big
immigration bill, moving it more toward the congressional center.
In several key votes, senators backed the construction of a 370-mile-long
border fence, voted to bar many criminals from becoming U.S. citizens and
beat back an attempt to keep illegal immigrants in the United States more
than two years from a path to citizenship
Rove and Huerta were pressing from right and left. The ad hoc alliance of
the White House political strategist and the United Farm Workers advocate,
combined with the votes on amendments, spotlighted the bill's momentum as
well as its many remaining obstacles.
"This," said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, "is a delicate political dance."
Behind the scenes, Rove was urging House Republicans in a 20-minute
morning meeting to support a comprehensive reform package. There was no
sign that he had swayed conservatives who insist strictly on border control.
Huerta, the UFW's 76-year-old co-founder, was likewise on Capitol Hill
urging lawmakers to support comprehensive reform.
Meanwhile, the Senate put a more conservative cast on the immigration bill.
In a surprisingly unanimous vote, the Senate agreed that felons, individuals
convicted of three or more misdemeanors and immigrants who ignored
previous deportation orders won't be eligible for U.S. citizenship.
In a concession to Democrats, the Department of Homeland Security will
be able to grant humanitarian exceptions.
"I think it bodes well for Senate action," said Republican Sen. John Cornyn
of Texas, who has opposed the overall bill. "It demonstrates that people that
have differences of opinion can work things out."
In another salute to law enforcement, the Senate by an 83-16 vote adopted
an amendment to construct 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Currently, fencing spans less than 100 miles of the 1,952-mile border.
California's senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, joined most other
Democrats in supporting the new fence plan.
It will cost $1 billion or more to build the new triple-layer fence, according
to the estimate of Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
The Congressional Budget Office this week estimated that between 2007 and
2016, the overall bill would boost federal spending by about $54 billion. That
includes benefits for immigrants admitted under the bill. However, added
taxes and other sources would increase federal revenues by about $66 billion
during the same period, the CBO said.
Still, some consider the fence a political bargain. Fence construction sends
the same kind of get-tough signal that President Bush chose Monday with
his temporary border deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops.
"This is a gut check that the American people can understand very simply,"
said Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, adding that "in highly urban
areas, there is simply no alternative to a fence; that is simply an impossible
The House bill passed in December authorizes 700 miles of new border
fencing. The fencing differences between the House and Senate will be
negotiated later this year in a conference committee. Other differences are
far more serious and may prove intractable.
The House bill focuses strictly on border enforcement. The Senate bill,
set for completion next week, includes guest-worker and legalization
programs in addition to border security.
On Wednesday, confirming the coming fight with the House, the Senate
rejected, 66-33, an amendment that would have stripped out an agricultural
guest-worker program as well as what critics call "amnesty" provisions.
That means the Senate bill will still permit illegal immigrants who have
been in the United States longer than two years to seek legal U.S.
residency and, eventually, citizenship.
"Everyone understands that the bill will be written in the conference
committee," Cornyn said.
Lungren, who helped write the last big immigration reform bill in 1986,
now hopes to be named to that crucial conference committee. Like most
other House Republicans, he listened closely in the basement of the
Capitol on Wednesday morning as Rove delivered a pep talk in support
of comprehensive reform.
"He said that a guest-worker bill is a key to border security," Rep.
George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, noted after Rove's talk.
Radanovich said "there weren't any moans and groans" during Rove's
presentation, and White House spokesman Tony Snow stressed afterward
that the session "was respectful."
Nonetheless, some of the most vocal House conservatives have already
made clear that they haven't been swayed by White House arguments.
Bush will continue his public relations campaign today with a trip to
the Arizona-Mexico border; immigrant advocates are continuing their
own public efforts, which on Wednesday included a rally on the
The Senate voted on key immigration provisions Wednesday.
Voted 83-16 to construct a 370-mile-long, triple-layer fence along
the Southwestern border.
Cost: At least $1 billion.
Location: Various areas where immigrants most often try to cross
the border illegally into the United States.
Jeff Sessions, R-AlabamaThe move sends "a signal that we are
serious about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants over the
Votes for: 55 Republicans 28 Democrats
Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "What we have here has become a
symbol for the right wing in American politics."
Votes against: 15 Democrats 1 independent
Voted 66-33 against removing the possibility of citizenship for
undocumented workers who have been in the United States more
than two years. Voted 99-0 to deny citizenship to those convicted
of a felony or three misdemeanors.
* The Bee's Michael Doyle can be reached at
(202) 383-0006 or firstname.lastname@example.org.