WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate leaders agreed on Thursday to revive a stalled immigration overhaul after lawmakers worked out a plan to overcome conservatives’ objections to a bill that would legalize millions of immigrants.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a joint statement the Senate would reconsider the legislation after completing work on an energy bill some time next week.
“We met this evening with several of the senators involved in the immigration bill negotiations,” the two leaders said in a statement.
“Based on that discussion, the immigration bill will return to the Senate floor after completion of the energy bill.”
The new agreement would limit the number of amendments and include a measure to ensure funding for tighter border security measures, something sought by conservatives, lawmakers and aides said.
The bill, which ties tough border security and enforcement of workplace rules to a temporary worker program and a plan to legalize most of the 12 million illegal immigrants, was shelved last week after failing to win the 60 votes it needed to advance in the 100-member Senate.
The proposal, which also would create a new merit-based system for future immigration, has created tremendous political heat far in advance of the November 2008 presidential election. Conservatives argue it would give amnesty to people who broke U.S. laws, and unions say its temporary worker program would create an underclass of cheap laborers.
Earlier on Thursday, President George W. Bush told a group of contractors that he backed the measure that would ensure some $4.4 billion would be provided for additional fencing and other measures to beef up border security.
Bush is anxious for Congress to approve what would be a significant legislative achievement in his second term in office, as he struggles with low approval ratings, chaos in Iraq and the new Democratic majority on Capitol Hill.
He endorsed the amendment two days after making a rare visit to Congress to lobby for the bill, which was halted last week by opposition from within his own Republican Party.
“I call on the senators to pass this amendment and show the American people that we’re going to do our jobs of securing this border once and for all,” Bush said in a speech to the Associated Builders and Contractors.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said later that the administration welcomed the Senate move to reconsider the bill.
Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who helped write the amendment along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said it would help ease concerns in the party that the enforcement measures in the bill would be properly funded.
Such an amendment “hopefully will make people feel much more comfortable about the way (the legislation) will actually work,” Kyl said.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky