Senate Democrats eye immigration blitz after recess

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The Senate’s Democratic leaders may try to rush a nation-changing, economy-shaping immigration law though the Senate as soon as the Easter recess ends April 8, before the public can even read the bill, say GOP insiders.

The GOP’s concerns are fueled by the Senate judiciary committee’s failure to schedule any hearings so that senators, advocates and the public can analyze the draft bill, which is expected to be several hundred pages long.

The pending strategy was highlighted by a recent statement from GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, the leading advocate for the bill, which could grant amnesty to at least 11 million low-skill immigrants, allow them to bring in their relatives, and also allow companies to bring in millions more workers.

“You don’t want to leave it hanging out for two weeks to get shot up” by opponents, Graham told the AP.

In 2006 and 2007, Graham’s efforts to pass a major rewrite failed once the public protested.

So far, the Democrat-controlled Senate has scheduled no hearings on the bill, even though proponents say it will be released immediately after the recess.

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the GOP’s lead opponent of the amnesty measure, slammed the committee’s fast-track strategy.

“In rushing the health care bill to passage, Nancy Pelosi infamously said that ‘we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it,’” he said in a statement to The Daily Caller.

“Unfortunately, it appears these same tactics are being applied to the passage of a massive comprehensive immigration bill,” he said.

The judiciary committee has two immigration-related hearings next week, on top of two more hearings held last week and last month, said a committee aide. The committee also held three hearings during the last Congress, which “certainly inform the process as well,” said the aide.

Committee chairman “Senator [Patrick] Leahy has maintained that he will lead an open process when it comes to immigration reform, as is consistent with how he manages the committee, and looks forward to working with all its members on a comprehensive bill,” said the aide.

From 2005 to 2007, before and during the 2006 and 2007 immigration debates, the Senate held 12 hearings on the issue of immigration.

Pressed to explain if the committee plans to hold hearings into the draft bill, she referred TheDC to the immigration subcommittee.

That subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Chuck Schumer, the sharply partisan New York senator who is leading the Democrats’ immigration rewrite effort. He’s working with three Democratic Senators and four GOP Senators — including Graham, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Marco Rubio — to draft the bill for introduction shortly after the recess.

The most prominent Republican in the eight-member group writing the bill is Rubio.

He’s told AP that he isn’t rushing to complete the bill.

“I don’t know about timeframe. … I’d rather do it right than do it fast. …. I think we’re making good progress,” he said.

His office did not respond to a request from TheDC about whether he will demand hearings for the bill.

In 2006, the huge bill contained numerous complex proposals that provided many new opportunities for immigration lawyers.

It also include numerous controversial measures that spurred public opposition.

In 2007, for example, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid introduced a 790-page bill, S.1639, that included a so-called “Z visa,” allowing nearly all illegal immigrants in the country to get work permits.

On page 572, the bill called for requiring government officials to provide temporary work permits — dubbed probationary Z visas — within 24 hours to every applicant who claimed to be in the country when the bill was passed, for up to two years after passage of the law.

“No probationary benefits shall be issued to an alien until the alien has passed all appropriate background checks or the end of the next business day, whichever is sooner,” said the bill.

Other measures in the bill would provide taxpayer funded legal services and tuition payments to illegal immigrants, and allow gang members to stay if they signed a “renunciation of gang affiliation.”

The push for rapid approval of the controversial bill is a major lesson drawn from the failure of the 2006 and 2007 immigration rewrite bills.

In 2006, “the time between agreement and getting it to the floor really allowed a lot of erosion from both the right and left … [so] you’ve got to move it it quickly,” said Michael Cherthoff, who also served as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Cherthoff led the 2006 push for President George W. Bush. He’s now employed by Covington & Burling, a large legal and lobbying firm.

But Sessions sharply disagrees with the Graham and Cherthoff claim.

“The lessons of 2006 and 2007 are not to try and rush through a bill, the lessons of the last failed amnesty are to slow down and heed the will of the people,” he said.

“If the authors of an immigration bill believe it is good, and without flaw or loophole, then why not present it to the public with more than enough time for them to consider it, weigh in and express their views to their representatives?”

Currently, roughly 20 million skilled and unskilled Americans are unemployed, and wages for all but the wealthiest Americans have slid since 2007.

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