Story 2 Mountains and Clouds
Spring 2002: Kennedy and Brownback have rejoined forces, though security is now the focus. Their Border Security Bill must come before immigration reform but there's a mysterious hold-up in the Senate. Finally it's revealed a single Senator is at the bottom of the delay -- Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, Kennedy's longest-serving and most feared colleague. Meanwhile, the White House proposes a small, immigrant-friendly provision be added to the stalled Border Security Bill. This unexpected detour creates more trouble every day it lasts. But to unlock the deadlock, what does Senator Byrd want?
In early September 2001, Washington had been on the cusp of a watershed moment for comprehensive immigration reform. It was the most electrifying moment in decades for seasoned immigration advocates like Frank Sharry and Cecilia Muñoz, who have been at the center of every immigration-related legislative and policy debate both big and small, for years. But 9/11 crushed hopes for reform, as Congress and the new Bush administration turned undivided attention to national security.
By the spring of 2002, the climate for reform seems to be starting to thaw, and Kennedy and Brownback, two of the Senate's greatest champions of immigration, have rejoined forces. But security, still the central tenet of any immigration bill with a hope of passage, must be addressed first. Kennedy and Brownback have teamed up with two more enforcement-minded colleagues, Senators Kyl and Feinstein, to introduce a Border Security Bill. It is mirrored by a bill of the same name that passed in the House last December.
As spring wears on, the hold-up in the Senate is mysterious. Editorials around the country clamor for the bill, citing the imminent danger of another terrorist attack as long as the government cannot manage an integrated computer network. A single Senator is at the bottom of the delay -- Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, Democratic from West Virginia and one of the longest-serving and most feared members of the Senate. But what does Senator Byrd want?
As his fellow Democrats and the Republican administration scramble to find the answer, President Bush's next meeting with Vicente Fox of Mexico nears. In a surprise move considered by opponents to be a grab for political capital or a "present to Fox", the White House proposes a small, immigrant-friendly provision be added to the Border Security Bill stuck in Congress. It would allow illegal immigrants with family or job connections to stay in the U.S. while their Green Cards are processed, rather than having to return to their home countries and wait for years.
The minor provision, a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act known as "245-(i)", means an unexpected detour that turns out to be real trouble. It alarms immigration advocates eager to get past the Border Security Bill hurdle and back to genuinely comprehensive reform, and creates fierce opposition in Congress on both sides of the aisle.
Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo calls 245-(i) amnesty and fears it could open dangerous loopholes for potential terrorists. The venerable and outspoken Senator Byrd, who at age 85 has been serving in the Senate for half his life, calls it "sheer lunacy." But this is not a moment when most members of Congress wants to appear out of step with the White House.
In short order, the House passes the Border Security Bill again, this time with 245-(i) attached. The margin of support is only single vote, a huge victory for Tancredo's anti-immigration caucus. Now the spotlight is on the Senate and breaking the logjam comes down, as it so often does in the Senate, to the personal relationship between Senator Kennedy and Senator Byrd.
After their private meeting, the Immigration Sub-committee schedules a hearing at which Senator Byrd will testify. Byrd delivers a fiery speech deriding the "amnesty" provision, and uses the occasion to dress down Republican members of the committee who refused to fund previous similar measures.
Senate debate begins that same afternoon. Senator Byrd agrees to allow the bill to proceed to the floor, but makes no promises beyond that. It's up to Majority Leader Daschle to decide whether or not to strip 245-(i) from the bill. With mid-term elections just around the corner, the stakes are high for everyone involved and the ride is not over yet. But on April 18th, 2002, the Senate completes consideration of the Border Security Bill with no 245-(i) provision attached, and votes in favor of it's passage, 97-0.
Senator Brownback likens the long and painful triumph to the birth of a baby, and looks ahead to the next immigration battles he expects to be tougher. His charismatic young chief of staff, David Kensinger, is increasingly worried about the political fallout in Kansas if the senator appears pro-amnesty.
And in a painful irony for Frank, Cecilia and pro-immigration advocates who simply wanted to get past the security hurdles to return to comprehensive reform, the weeks of delay caused by the fight over what became known on talk radio as the "245-(i) amnesty" has given anti-immigration activists an advantage that will play out for years to come.