TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: The Senate's hip-deep in a big energy bill this week, debating things like fuel efficiency standards and renewable resources. But perhaps as early as next week they'll be back talking about amnesty and border security. The immigration bill has been revived.
And our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale's the one we turn to on this story. Hiya, John.
John Dimsdale: Hello, Kai.
Ryssdal: So here we go again on immigration, huh?
Dimsdale: Yeah, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. We're gonna see the sequel, part two.
Ryssdal: What's it gonna look like, this bill, when it eventually comes up for some kind of debate?
Dimsdale: Well, the biggest achievement with the new bill is the agreement to limit the number of amendments. There had been some 300 amendments with the old bill, and opponents had been lining up to put more. Now, the president's gonna get Republicans, and the Senate leaders will get Democrats, to limit their amendments to 22 evenly divided among the parties. If they can limit it to that number, Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks that he can finish this bill and send it to the House by the end of the month. And if not, he's threatening to keep senators here into their coveted Fourth of July recess to force a final vote.
Ryssdal: Yeah, and nobody likes that. What are some of these amendments that are being floated about out there?
Dimsdale: Several amendments designed to keep businesses behind the bill. For example, the high-tech industry has been pushing for a provision to double the number of H-1B visas. These are given out to skilled, educated workers. But unions will try to limit them. They argue that employers are using these visas to bring in cheap labor, getting skilled workers from overseas who'll work for less. They have an amendment that would limit H-1B visas for entry-level workers. Businesses are also pushing for a change in the stiff requirements in the bill that employers have to check on the legal status of all their employees. There's an amendment to limit these ID checks to new hires only, and the elaborate follow-ups and cross-checkings would only need to be done with workers whose Social Security numbers don't match with their names.
There are amendments on the other side as well — an effort by Democrats to shift the points that illegal immigrants get toward legal status, away from job skills and give more weight to family ties. Democrats say that, you know, their policy is more family-friendly. Although that would probably be a deal-breaker for conservatives, who are trying to limit what they call "chain migration."
Ryssdal: John, let me back you up for just one second and get back to this employer verification thing. Wasn't one of the key ways that the president said he'd get this bill back to the floor by toughening up on A) border security, but also enforcement?
Dimsdale: Exactly. And that's really something that the conservative side is really holding out for. And this new bill does provide more money for border security. And they're trying to keep the checks on employer verification. But businesses are balking at that, saying that, you know, there's no necessarily gonna be a verifiable way to check somebody who walks in and has what looks like a good Social Security number, how are they going to check? So without a very expensive government program that might violate privacy rules, businesses are saying, you know, we can't do that.
Ryssdal: John, bring the weight of your vast Washington experience to bear here and make a guess as to how this bill's gonna fare.
Dimsdale: Well, you know, this grand bargain idea is really hanging by a thread. And when you . . . every time you try to add conservatives on one side, you lose liberals, and vice-versa. And that's just in the Senate — the prospects in the House will be just as tough. I don't think this is gonna pass this year.
Ryssdal: John Dimsdale in Washington. Thank you, John.
Dimsdale: Thanks, Kai.