THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Heading into this week's final showdown on the Senate immigration bill, its top backers said they think they will have the votes to pass it — now they just have to convince voters they are right to do so.
Facing opposition from the AFL-CIO and several major Hispanic advocacy groups, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said the bill improves border security and provides a good opportunity for illegal aliens and future immigrants.
Mr. Kennedy said on ABC's "This Week" that some of the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens across the nation who "fear that they may be deported or their children may be deported will know that they are legal here in the United States. They're going to have to follow tough rules, but they're going to be legal."
With a key test vote tomorrow on whether to revive the bill, its congressional backers fanned out across the political talk shows yesterday morning to try to win support and make the argument that their bill is better than the status quo.
That is a key point of contention. Last week, in separate press conferences, groups of conservatives, labor unions and immigrant advocates announced that they would rather keep the current law than adopt the Senate bill.
With such broad campaigning, opponents of the bill said they sense sentiment shifting in their direction.
"Senators are hearing from folks back home and the momentum is building against this bill," said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican. He said attempts to push extra border security into the legislation won't capture enough votes.
"National security shouldn't be held hostage for amnesty," Mr. DeMint said.
The bill collapsed nearly three weeks ago when half of the Senate — Republicans and Democrats alike — demanded more time to pass amendments.
The vote tomorrow to revive the bill, if successful, will be followed by votes on about two dozen amendments.
The bill proposes a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, a guest-worker program for foreigners and a rewrite of immigration rules to favor those with needed skills or education.
The issue has split the Republican Party. The party's leaders in the Senate have joined Democrats to support the bill, while many rank-and-file Republican senators have been campaigning against it, having been boosted by talk radio, bloggers and hundreds of thousands of phone calls and faxes from grass-roots activists.
In some cases the legislation pits senators against their own past remarks.
Last year, Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, opposed a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, but this year he has become one of the bill's most vocal Republican defenders.
"Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace yesterday read Mr. Lott a quote from a column he wrote last year defending a border security bill that said it should contain "no amnesty, and no expedited citizenship."
Mr. Lott did not respond directly, saying he agrees with many of the critics of the bill but is "trying to get a result here."