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Immigration overhaul dies in Senate
Web Posted: 06/28/2007 10:54 PM CDT

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 be resurrected.

"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 undocumented immigrants.

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 priority.

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 support."

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 Educational Fund.

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 workers."

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 don't want.

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.



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