Senate may vote on immigration reform measure Friday

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., intends to file a second cloture petition Tuesday on a sweeping immigration measure, setting up a Thursday vote to limit debate.

If that motion is approved, a final vote would occur Friday, possibly after a "vote-a-rama" on amendments, Democratic leadership aides said Monday. The Senate will vote on a separate cloture motion Tuesday and -- assuming it passes, and several insiders predict it will -- the next step for Reid would be to offer his omnibus amendment that contains all the Democratic and Republican proposals that will receive votes this week.

Aides said the timing and order of the amendment votes is being negotiated. Republicans want to vote on several amendments before Thursday's cloture vote. Many of their decisions on whether to support the second cloture motion depend on whether certain amendments pass.

Immigrant advocates are reviewing an enforcement amendment that is considered critical to Republican support. The amendment by Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl of Arizona and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mel Martinez, R-Fla., would require illegal immigrants seeking a "Z" visa to return to their home countries and receive certification at a U.S. consulate.

The earlier "touchback" raises questions about whether the legalization program would work. Angela Kelly, deputy director of the advocacy group National Immigration Forum, said illegal immigrants must have confidence in the program for it to work. "If there's one thing that rattles people's nerves, it's dealing with their consulates," she said.

Still, immigrant advocates know that keeping the immigration bill alive depends on attracting enough Republican support. NIF has yet to take a position on the amendment.

Negotiators are still attempting to determine how to handle two amendments on H-1B visas -- one from Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., that would tighten restrictions on employers using the high-tech guestworker program and another from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Kyl that would increase the number of annual H-1Bs.

Durbin and the high-tech industry have been trading proposals for over a week on how to meld the two H-1B amendments into one proposal, but they might not have succeeded. A Durbin aide said this afternoon that Durbin's proposal would receive a separate vote from the Cantwell-Kyl proposal. The Cantwell-Kyl proposal will be folded into the broader Kyl-Graham-Martinez enforcement amendment.

The Durbin amendment would bar employers from hiring more than 30 percent of H-1B visa holders at the lowest of four skill levels. A counterproposal from Compete America, a coalition lobbying for access to H-1B workers, would give the Labor secretary authority to investigate any employer whose H-1B workforce exceeds 30 percent in the lowest skill level.

"Thirty percent is an artificial barrier," said Robert Hoffman, Oracle vice president of government and public affairs.

While Compete America is troubled by some of Durbin's proposal, it is lobbying heavily for the adoption of the Cantwell-Kyl amendment. "If Cantwell-Kyl is adopted, we're urging members to support the bill," Hoffman said.

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