This week the Senate will immerse itself in the immigration debate, with what's expected to be a passionate and heated floor debate. There are very few things that are certain about how the debate will proceed, what is likely to become law, or more generally, "who wins, who loses." It contains multi-layered proposals with lots of moving pieces -- both legislative and political. But here are the broad outlines as it relates to what the Senate is doing.
There are two distinct components within immigration reform. The first part -- and the part where there is general consensus -- is physical border security. It involves adding more customs and border agents; better and additional surveillance tools like cameras and sensors; and more walls and fences along the Mexican border.
The second, and most contentious issue within Republican ranks, deals with the immigrants themselves: What to do with the 12 million people who are already in the country illegally? How to control the flow of those trying to come in? And, the hot-button issue of guest worker programs: Should those who are already here and working illegally be put on as fast track for permanent residency or should they be forced to return to their home countries and apply for citizenship from there?
So far the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction, has failed to produce a bill that has any type of guest worker provisions, only border security. It plans to meet in a rare Monday session to try to hammer one out addressing guest workers. But if they can't come up with a bill that is satisfactory to Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tenn., he will bring his own simple border security bill to the Senate floor on Tuesday, with no provisions addressing the controversial issues.
Once that happens, senators will be allowed to offer amendments and call for votes on those more contentious matters, like the guest worker program. It's at this point we'll likely hear the passionate floor speeches and heated debate.
There are still a few unresolved variables that could change the way this all plays out. Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Nev., has threatened to block Frist's bill, preferring something that comes directly from the committee, which would probably address guest workers. But it's unclear if Reid will have the votes to succeed with a blockade.
And even if the Senate was finally able to pass an immigration reform bill with a guest worker program, it could still never make it to the president's desk. When the House passed its immigration bill last year, it beat back any effort to address guest worker programs or residency status for illegal immigrants. And the House will be expected to put up the same fight if/when the two bills have to be reconciled and sent to President Bush.