- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

Senate Republican leaders said yesterday they are close to hashing out a compromise with Democrats on a new immigration bill, saying that a deal was “within our grasp.”

Republicans are “very positive about reaching a solution through a negotiated process with the Democrats,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican who is leading the negotiations for his party.

But a key Democrat involved with the negotiations was less optimistic, saying yesterday that Democrats have conceded so much already that they have little room to budge.

“I, and maybe other [Democrats], have moved increasingly in a direction that maybe we didn’t want to,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat who has participated in the talks. “But the question is — [it’s] not a deal at any price.”

Democrats want a bill that offers a path to citizenship to almost all illegal aliens and future legal guest workers. Republicans advocate tougher restrictions on how current illegal aliens can gain citizenship, and say future guest workers should not be allowed a path to citizenship.

Mr. Kyl briefed the Republican Senate Conference yesterday on the ongoing negotiations with a team of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and said most of his colleagues were pleased with the progress.

“More or less, the discussions we’ve had with Democrats seem to be positively received” by the conference, Mr. Kyl said.

Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, said he was “impressed with the bipartisan effort as it was explained to us.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans are committed and confident that his chamber will pass an immigration bill this year.

“The Senate passed an immigration bill last year on broad bipartisan basis, and I believe that is achievable again this year,” Mr. McConnell said.

But Mr. Menendez says the Bush administration is jeopardizing the talks by insisting on a more restrictive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year but failed in the House.

“The administration doesn’t seem to have tiptoed away from last year’s bipartisan position — they seem to have taken a huge leap backward, and it seems that several Republicans in the Senate have taken that leap along with them,” Mr. Menendez said

“The reason for this extreme shift is a mystery, but the result is clear, and negotiating a practical bill has been a lot more difficult.”

Still, Mr. Menendez said he wouldn’t rule out further compromise.

“In a negotiation it’s always fluid, but we’re not going to take the position that we’re finished moving to their side,” he said.

Many immigration advocates fear that Democrats may give away too much for the sake of getting a bill passed.

Republican leaders also say they will consider only an immigration bill that emerges from the ongoing Kyl-Kennedy negotiations.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, in an attempt to put pressure on the Republicans, has said he will bring up last year’s bill in the Senate next week — a move to which Republicans strongly object.

“We should be reminded that last year’s failed legislation was an affront to the American people, who were counting on Congress to secure our borders,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. “We should do better, and I think we can.”

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