Story 5 The Kids Across the Hill
Winter, 2003: As the new Congress begins, a lot of people have ideas about an immigration bill. For pro-immigration advocates, the best bet remains Kennedy's plan. Across the Hill in the House, young staffers for two Republican congressmen from Arizona, Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, are quietly crafting something that sounds very different -- a revolutionary guestworker bill with a path to citizenship. Esther's not too worried as long as their bill is Republican-only, but once her rivals begin courting a Democrat, the race is on. Suddenly Esther's got a crisis on her hands.
Legislative "seasons", when bills can actually move through Congress to become law, are second nature to people who've worked on Capitol Hill -- and mostly invisible to the rest of us. Winter 2003, begins just such a season, with a new Congress and almost a maximum number of months until the next election. Any Senator or Congressman who's got a bill would be wise to move quickly -- and in the winter of 2003, a lot of people have ideas about an immigration bill.
For pro-immigration advocates, the best bet remains Senator Ted Kennedy's comprehensive reform plan, the one he had been working on with Sam Brownback since before 9/11. But Brownback is gone now, and Senator Kennedy and his long-serving Immigration Counsel, Esther, are in a rush to find another Republican to take Brownback's place.
It's not turning out to be so easy, but John McCain of Arizona has been interested in a big immigration bill for a while. Kennedy knows McCain's a "hot ticket" and is pushing Esther to be ready. But Esther's still trying to corral business, labor and the pro-immigration advocates to give her their feedback so she can finally write the bill.
Across the Hill in the House, and not attracting much attention, two major immigration bills are brewing: on the left, progressive firebrand Luis Gutierrez from Chicago has a broad and generous plan to make legalization possible for immigrants; from the opposite side of the aisle, Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, two Republican congressmen from Arizona, are quietly crafting something with their young staffers that sounds very different. It's a revolutionary guestworker bill would allow immigrants to work in the U.S. legally with visas, able to move from job to job as the market allows.
But neither bill is bi-partisan and most of the old hands in the pro-immigration world consider that a baseline requirement. They're still looking to the Senate for Kennedy and Esther to go first. Esther's problem is that it's all just taking so long!
As February becomes June, the two Arizona Congressmen are close to solving their bi-partisan problem by convincing Democrat Sylvestre Reyes of Texas to co-sponsor their bill. The Arizona Republicans must introduce it before August recess when they have to face unhappy constituents back home.
Over in the Senate, Esther hadn't been too worried about Kolbe-Flake as long as it was Republican-only, but with a Democrat in the picture, the equation changes. If Kolbe, Flake and Reyes introduce their bill before Kennedy does, they will set the bi-partisan agenda going forward.
Suddenly Esther's got a crisis on her hands. Advocates who have been trying to help her nail down practical aspects of her bill turn to the politics of keeping Kennedy's options open, maneuvering to prevent Congressman Reyes from joining his Arizona colleagues. But it's an opponent of comprehensive reform who finally manages that feat.
What nobody sees coming is Senator McCain's last-minute decision. It will influence the course of Republican politics, and the fate of an immigration reform bill, for years to come. And this legislative season is disappearing fast.