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Stuck on immigration

Reid's bluff didn't work, and now reform is stalled. But it's too important to leave it that way.

June 08, 2007

THE SHAMEFUL -- and we hope temporary -- shelving of an immigration reform bill by the Senate contradicts the aphorism that success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan. This failure has plenty of fathers: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who issued an ultimatum he couldn't enforce; Republican senators who played to the know-nothing fringe; and the Bush administration, which blessed a "grand bargain" reached by a bipartisan group of senators but didn't follow through with enough pressure on recalcitrant members of the president's party.

A couple of days ago, it seemed as if the parliamentary ground was being cleared for Senate enactment of the essential components of the compromise cobbled together by the so-called Gang of 12: legalization of millions of illegal immigrants who are in this country to stay regardless of what Congress does, improved border security and a greater emphasis on skills in the admission of both legal immigrants and temporary workers. That compromise was fully satisfying to none but should have been amenable to all, given the prize -- the opportunity of citizenship for millions of men and women living and working in this country, forging its culture and contributing to its life.

Optimistic -- overly so -- that the legislation was on track to approval, Reid announced that it was time for the Senate to call an end to the debate. He scheduled a cloture vote for Thursday, warning his colleagues that if they didn't vote to fast-track consideration of the bill, he would yank it from the calendar and proceed to other business, including a resolution expressing no confidence in Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.

That was a strategic mistake. By midday Thursday, Republicans were fuming about what they saw as Reid's pressure tactics and also about a Democratic amendment, approved by a vote of 49 to 48, that would abolish a temporary-worker program -- a feature of the bill important to business groups -- after five years. Reid scrambled to recover but twice failed to deliver the votes to end debate.

A chastened Reid made good on his promise to remove immigration reform from the calendar -- even as he offered to resurrect it if Senate Republicans and the Bush administration convinced him that another vote wouldn't be an empty exercise. Reid's feelings may be hurt, and his skills as a negotiator are now seriously in doubt. But this is about more than face or partisan advantage. The Senate owes it to the millions of people whose futures hang on this legislation to try again. It is those futures -- and the nation's -- that rest on this bill.

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