Fat chance: At 24 pounds, immigration bill is too big for many to swallow

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At 1,075 pages long, it’s not the biggest bill to come through in recent years — that honor still belongs to the health care law — but the immigration legislation pending in the Senate is challenging the ability of voters to get their brains around its complexity.

Touching on everything from border security to welfare programs to free trade, the massive bill is dominating legislative action this month on Capitol Hill, where Democrats are intent on pushing it through before July 4 and Republicans are trying to debate whether to go along.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Immigration Reform

One group has weighed the printed bill and said it comes to 24 pounds. That doesn’t include the 448 pages of amendments that have been filed to try to change the measure.

The bill’s authors say the breadth of the bill is critical and that all parts must be considered together in order to keep a coalition in place. That means tying border security, stricter workplace enforcement, a rewrite of the legal-immigration system and a program to legalize 11 million illegal immigrants all into the same bill.

The House, though, is rebelling.

Late last week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, announced that he would begin taking up pieces of the immigration puzzle: a 53-page bill to create a guest-worker program for agriculture and a 174-page bill to bolster interior immigration enforcement.

“For far too long, the standard operating procedure in Washington has been to rush large pieces of legislation through Congress with little opportunity for elected officials and the American people to scrutinize and understand them,” said Mr. Goodlatte. “Immigration reform is too important and complex to not examine each piece in detail.”

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has taken the lead on pushing for legalization, said Republicans’ enforcement-only legislation is reversing what had been a promising outreach.

“We started so well. January, February, March, April, May, part of June — let’s finish it, let’s not demonize, let’s not pick winners and losers,” said Mr. Gutierrez, pointing to the need to find a majority in the House to get any bill passed. “It takes 218 votes. So what are we going to do, have this fight again?”

House Republican leaders eventually will have to decide what legislation they put on their chamber floor, and they still could opt for a broad bill.

The choice of big or small is likely to dominate immigration conversations in the upcoming months.

Last week, members of Californians for Population Stabilization walked through the Senate office buildings distributing fliers with eyeglasses attached, which they said senators should use to read the bill.

The group specifically targeted Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who was one of eight senators who wrote the legislation and has taken the lead in trying to sell the measure to conservatives.

“We hope Sen. Rubio is not being misled by his staff. We hope he will read the bill with open and clear eyes so he will change his position,” said Timothy Conway, one of those who volunteered for the group. “We supplied eyeglasses to 67 Senate offices yesterday and asked them to pass along their pair to Sen. Rubio. Maybe he will open his eyes.”

Californians for Population Stabilization is the group that weighed the Senate bill and said it came in at 24 pounds.

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