Agreement has long way to go to be law

Published May 19, 2007

WASHINGTON - One of the nation's most vexing political and social issues - how to deal with millions of illegal immigrants - can be solved only if Congress and the White House embrace the same can-do spirit that marked this week's tentative deal. Don't count on it.

Forged in secrecy, the proposal now faces the harsh realities of the public arena, its fate in the hands of politicians averse to compromise or taking chances. In particular, the 2008 presidential candidates seem determined to play politics with immigration: They're changing their tone and positions, or hedging to meet election-year demands.

"In terms of all the senators running for their parties' presidential nominations, this is sort of like receiving a mysterious package in the mail and trying to figure out what's inside. It could explode in their faces or be 10 pounds of fudge, " said Ross K. Baker, political science professor at Rutgers University.

A cross-party coalition of lawmakers signed off Thursday on a bill that would offer legal status to most of the nation's 12-million illegal immigrants while also toughening border security. The effort suggests that some politicians are adequately motivated to address the immigration crisis before the 2008 elections.

It may be President Bush's last chance to claim a significant domestic policy victory before the end of a second term hit by scandal, war and plummeting approval ratings. It's the first major opportunity by the Democratic-led Congress to get something done. And it's the best chance Washington will get anytime soon to control the nation's porous borders and bring millions of illegal immigrants out of the shadows of the law, confronting economic and national security concerns.

Where the candidates stand

For the most part, the major presidential candidates reacted cautiously to news of the immigration deal.