By  on June 27, 2007

WASHINGTON — The Senate revived a bill to revamp the immigration system on Tuesday after weeks of intense debate and criticism that appeared to leave it dead.

The senators voted 64 to 35 — surpassing the required 60 votes — to consider the legislation, which would give citizenship to most of the estimated 12 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, crack down on employers who hire them, establish a guest worker program and, proponents say, help secure America's borders. The issue has created factions among Democrats and Republicans, and although President Bush supports the bill, many in the GOP argue that it amounts to amnesty.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) managed to pick up the pieces and craft a package of amendments intended to appeal to both sides. The Senate began debating and voting on the amendments Tuesday.

Senate leaders must still overcome another crucial vote to cut off debate that will require 60 votes. Should that obstacle be removed, even a simple majority needed for passage is far from certain. And whatever emerges from the Senate will have to be reconciled with a House version, which has yet to take up the legislation.

Retailers have concerns about many of the bill's provisions, including mandatory electronic verification of new employees within 18 months and a reverification of the entire company workforce within three years. In addition, the bill would increase the maximum penalty for a pattern of hiring illegal workers to $75,000 per employee from $3,000 and hold employers accountable for verifying the legal status of their contractors' and subcontractors' employees.

Retail groups are pinning their hopes on an amendment, offered by Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Barrack Obama (D., Ill.), that would only require the reverification of employees that the Department of Homeland Security picks out because of discrepancies in documentation. However, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff opposes the amendment, arguing that it would create loopholes and undermine the legislation.

"It's more practical to look at people who you think may be at risk for being illegal or undocumented rather than looking" at the entire workforce, said Liz Oesterle, senior director for the National Retail Federation.Organized labor is deeply divided on the entire approach of the bill, but UNITE HERE, the main apparel and textile union, welcomed the revival in the Senate debate.

"We want this to get voted out of the Senate and be sent to the House," said Tom Snyder, UNITE's national political director. "If it doesn't get out of the Senate, in all likelihood, it [immigration reform] will likely be dead for many years. That will mean more raids [by U.S. officials], more deportations, more deaths at the border, more police-state style action and more exploitation in the workplace."

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