Immigration bill's revival a victory for Graham

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lindsey Graham gained a major victory Tuesday when the Senate voted to resume consideration of the immigration bill he helped craft.

Graham hailed the 64-35 vote for reviving the complex legislation that stalled in the Senate two weeks ago.

"The Senate must move forward in fixing our broken immigration system," Graham said. "It's a national disgrace to allow the current chaos to continue. While the reform legislation is not perfect, it is a substantial improvement over current law."

President Bush also welcomed the step forward for the "complex, carefully crafted" comprehensive immigration reforms.

"The system isn't working," Bush said at a hastily arranged appearance with Cabinet members, business leaders and other bill supporters. "The immigration system needs reform. The status quo is unacceptable."

Since Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the measure off the floor June 7, Bush has worked with him and a small bipartisan group of senators, including Graham, to modify the legislation so that it can gain more support in the Senate.

But the vote to take up the measure once more split Senate Republicans in half, with 24 voting to resume debate and 25 voting against it.

The Carolinas' four Republican senators were also divided: Graham of South Carolina and Richard Burr of North Carolina supported renewed debate; Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina opposed it.

Thirty Democratic senators voted to reconsider the immigration bill, while nine Democrats and one independent -- Bernard Sanders of Vermont -- voted against doing so.

The Senate decision to move ahead with the legislation far from guarantees its passage. Senators are scheduled to debate dozens of amendments this week, some of them highly controversial.

Among the main amendments is a multifaceted one that Graham wrote. It has a number of clauses aimed at tightening border controls and increasing penalties against foreigners who stay in the United States after their visas expire.

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican manager of the bill on the Senate floor, and Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, are co-sponsoring Graham's amendment.

In a bid to attract senators who claim the measure offers de facto amnesty to foreigners who broke U.S. laws, Graham also added a controversial "touchback" clause: In order to obtain a new Z visa, illegal immigrants would have to return to their home country within three years of stepping forward from hiding from the law.