Immigration overhaul dies in Senate
WASHINGTON — The Senate delivered a fatal blow to President Bush's top
domestic issue Thursday and voted to block a sweeping immigration
reform bill to improve border security and provide legalization for 12
million undocumented immigrants.
The Senate voted 46-53 against limiting debate on the bill and moving
it forward for final passage, allowing it to die. Supporters fell 14
votes short of the 60 needed.
"Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people
and Congress' failure to act on it is a disappointment," Bush said at
the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
Proponents of the bipartisan bill said immigration reform in the
Senate was likely dead for this year, with the 2008 presidential
election year fast approaching.
But the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill could
"This is a legislative issue, it will come back, it's only a question
of when," Reid said.
Support for the bill began to unravel when conservatives balked at
provisions to provide permanent residency and citizenship for
Texas' two Republican senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn,
joined 35 GOP lawmakers, 15 Democrats and one independent in blocking
the bill, handing Bush a defeat on his top domestic legislative
Cornyn said the president was "not in tune" with Americans' concerns
about the complexities and details within the sweeping bill.
"He wasn't getting the angry phone calls, faxes and e-mails or the
direct confrontations that I got, let's say, when I held town hall
meetings in Texas," Cornyn said.
Hutchison blamed the bill's collapse on Senate leaders who tried to
"rush a deeply flawed bill in a closed process, which I cannot
But Hutchison was one of several lawmakers who offered amendments to
the bill, only to see them defeated by a core of bipartisan lawmakers
who tried to keep the compromise legislation intact.
A Hutchison amendment requiring all undocumented immigrant adults to
return home to apply for permanent residency was soundly defeated
earlier this week.
Immigrant-rights groups said the measure was unworkable and mean-spirited.
But the defeat of the overall bill dashed the hopes of the estimated
12 million people in this country illegally.
The bill would have allowed them to obtain Z visas with permanent
residency and an eventual path to citizenship.
"Families remain at risk of being split up, businesses remain unable
to hire legal workers for all their jobs and the immigration system
cannot effectively devote resources to protect America's security or
future," said John Trasvinawith the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Frank Sharry with the National Immigration Forum said "immigrant
workers and families will continue to live in fear, die in the desert
and be subject to exploitation."
"Local communities will continue to be roiled by federal inaction and
local ordinances. Voters will continue to ask why their elected
leaders seem incapable of solving tough problems," Sharry said.
In the House, Republicans rejoiced at the defeat of the Senate bill,
which they labeled an amnesty for millions of lawbreakers.
"This is a huge victory for the American people. They have spoken and
their representatives have heard them," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San
Antonio, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, said, "hopefully this bill will never see
the light of day again."
"I will work tirelessly to make sure that a blanket amnesty bill does
not pass the House of Representatives," Johnson said.
Reid and proponents blamed talk radio and the influence of social
conservative groups for peeling away Republican senators who earlier
in the week voted to jump-start debate on the bill.
Conservative groups launched a full court press, deriding Republican
senators who favored the comprehensive bill and bombarding Senate
offices with phone calls and messages.
Hours before the vote, Americans for Legal Immigration political
action committee members held rallies at the state offices of
Republicans who favored the bill.
"Citizens gathering in their offices the morning will signal to
senators that they cannot get away from the public wrath," said
William Gheenof ALIPAC.
Bush and proponents of the bill tried to sweeten the pot to hold
Republican votes, offering $4.4 billion for border security measures
to be paid for with penalties and fees from undocumented immigrants
seeking permanent residency.
The bill also lacked solid support from Democrats.
Labor unions were split on the legislation. The AFL-CIO called for its
demise because of its guest-worker provisions.
John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president, said the bill "catered more to the
interests of employers at the expense of both immigrant and U.S.-born
Some Hispanic rights groups, like the William C. Velasquez Institute,
also denounced the compromise bill on humanitarian grounds.
Latino groups said the bill would have failed to give guest workers
eventual citizenship, creating a group of second-class citizens.
Minority groups also opposed a merit-based, points system for legal
immigration that favored educated workers over those seeking to
reunite with family in the United States.
Still, a majority of the Hispanic rights and service-sector labor
unions found themselves aligned with big business in urging the Senate
to push the bill forward and to the House for fine tuning.
Bruce Josten with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the bill had
flaws, but business groups were hopeful that many of those concerns
could be ironed out in conference with House in final legislation "if
the Senate had just taken the step of moving it forward."
Inaction places a burden on U.S. employers required to verify a
worker's immigration status and find employees for jobs many Americans
Josten said Congress must still address "the need for border security
and the need for additional workers."
The vote Thursday came three weeks after Reid shelved the bill when
the Senate failed to cut off debate and move the legislation forward.
It was resurrected earlier this week, when Bush and a bipartisan
coalition of lawmakers agreed to bring it back to the floor again.
The Senate defeat Thursday strikes a deathblow to the bill, because
House leaders are reluctant to take up the legislation without
prospect of passing in the other chamber.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has told the White House she
would need 70 Republican votes to pass an immigration reform bill.
A House Republican caucus voted earlier this week, 114 to 23, to adopt
a resolution denouncing the Senate measure and its provisions on legalization.