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THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE: SUPPORTERS AND OPPONENTS

Bill opponents elated, backers pledge more efforts

Migrant rights groups say they will ask Bush to back a moratorium on deportations.

June 29, 2007|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Anti-illegal immigration groups celebrated the defeat Thursday of a U.S. Senate bill that would have legalized an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants, while advocates vowed to keep fighting for reform.

The bill's supporters failed to garner enough votes to conclude debate and move to a final tally, making it unlikely that legislation would be passed before the 2008 elections.

"I'm doing a little victory dance," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, which lobbied against the bill.

Immigrant rights advocates said they would continue pushing for a bill that would end mass deportations, promote family reunification and provide a path toward citizenship. They are placing their hopes in the U.S. House of Representatives and plan to call on President Bush for a moratorium on deportations. They are also organizing more protests and citizenship and voter drives.

"We are not giving up, because there is too much at stake," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "The road before us is very difficult ... That does not mean we are going to let [politicians] off the hook."

The House has not taken up debate on the issue, but Republicans unveiled legislation earlier this month that would bar illegal immigrants from gaining legal status in the U.S. and require tamper-proof birth certificates for Americans.

Immigrant workers and students expressed their disappointment with the Senate and criticized legislators for listening to only one side of the debate. Illegal immigrants, they said, would continue living in fear and working in the underground economy.

Berenice Bautista, a high school student in Los Angeles, said she was most frustrated by the failure of the Senate bill's Dream Act, which would have allowed young illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates and eventually gain citizenship.

Bautista has been in the U.S. illegally since she was 2 and hopes to become a lawyer.

Green-card holder Rosalina Jimenez said she was fighting for the bill primarily for her undocumented children.

"I want to give them everything, but I can't," said Jimenez, who lives in Los Angeles and cleans office buildings. "They are young, with dreams. They want to go to the university."

But others such as Mark Mendlovitz, an electrical engineer in Beverly Hills who had met with the staff of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to express concerns about the legislation, were pleased by the outcome. Mendlovitz said the government should enforce the laws on the books, including sanctions against employers who hire undocumented workers.

"This bill was just a joke," he said. "It was 1986 all over again. It was going to legalize people with the stroke of a pen."

Jim Stivers, a bank vice president who lives in Orange County, said the Senate bill would have encouraged more illegal immigration and depressed wages for U.S. workers.

Stivers said he is so frustrated by the government's lax enforcement of immigration laws that he has no faith that it would enforce new ones.

"I'm very thankful that a bad law wasn't enacted," he said. "I think it was a threat to our country."

--

anna.gorman@latimes.com

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