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THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE: BILL FAILS IN SENATE

Senate buries immigration bill

In a defeat for Bush, the vote may scuttle chances for major action on the issue

June 29, 2007|Nicole Gaouette | Times Staff Writer

Once those criteria were met, the bill's other provisions would have kicked in. A temporary-worker program would have brought in 200,000 workers a year, eligible illegal immigrants who had been on a probationary legal status would have been able to get the bill's new "Z visa," and preference for future immigrants would have shifted to those with needed skills and education.

Prospects for an immigration overhaul moving forward in the House are slim to none. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) had said she wouldn't pursue immigration until after the Senate passed a bill. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), head of the House immigration subcommittee, said Thursday's vote "effectively ends comprehensive immigration reform efforts in the 110th Congress." Although Democrats have a solid margin of control in the House, immigration overhaul still faced tough odds there. Democrats had insisted they would need 70 Republican votes to pass a bill. Earlier this week, House Republicans passed a symbolic resolution against the Senate bill, 114 to 23.

Reid said that he was open to considering parts of the legislation as standalone bills, including AgJobs, a special program for farmworkers, and the Dream Act, which would give illegal immigrant children a way to earn citizenship if they are in school or the military.

"With harvest coming up, the fact that agricultural labor is way down, we need to do this bill," said Feinstein, a key proponent of AgJobs. "People are afraid," she said, speaking of growers in California and other states eyeing the looming harvest season.

Twelve Republicans, 33 Democrats and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) voted to support the bill. Thirty-seven Republicans, 15 Democrats and Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) voted to block the bill. Eighteen senators who had voted to restart debate on the bill just two days earlier shifted their votes to oppose it Thursday, including five Democrats.

Five of the 12 Senate Democrats and 18 of the 21 Republicans who face an election next year voted against the bill. The four Senate Democrats running for president voted for the bill, as did Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a key supporter. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) voted against it.

An unusual hush settled on the Senate immediately before the vote, even though the chamber's walls were lined with staff looking on and visitors, including Lofgren and other California House members.

Senators on the bipartisan team behind the bill said they knew Wednesday night that it was likely to fail. They telegraphed their resignation very early in the vote when the bill's lead Republican architect, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, winked, then grimaced at Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), another team member. Salazar nodded, then put a hand on Kyl's back.

Several bipartisan team members said the months of meetings had forged bonds across the aisle. Others acknowledged that the bruising immigration debate had opened new rifts.

"I do think this has created real divisions in our party, in our Senate caucus and our Republican Party more generally," Vitter said. "But all those things can and will be healed." He called on the Senate to reach a consensus on enforcement at the border and workplace.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said Congress should ensure that the administration does more to enforce current immigration laws. "No one here believes in the status quo.... We can't solve it with empty promises," DeMint said. "The first step when we leave here today is make sure the administration got the clear message that enforcement comes first."

Vitter suggested that the administration send a request to Congress for special funding bill to pay for stepped-up enforcement.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who spent hundreds of hours working on the bill and cajoling recalcitrant Republicans, complained that "necessary tools, which we needed to be able to do more than we can currently do in enforcing the law ... were left on the floor of the Senate" on Thursday.

He said the bill's failure meant the administration would not have a mandatory employment verification system or the ability to punish rogue employers with hefty fines instead of "corporate parking tickets."

"Although they may not be adequate in every respect to the job, I will enforce the laws we have," Chertoff said. But he added a warning: "You will continue to see heart-wrenching examples of families being pulled apart, because I have an obligation to enforce the law, whether it's painful to do or whether it's pleasurable to do."

Senate veterans on the team behind the bill sounded unperturbed by the setback. "Some legislation takes many years," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), describing the vote as "just a bump in the road."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the leading Democrat behind the bill, compared immigration reform to other social movements in U.S. history, such as the civil rights movement or the drive for women's rights, struggles that took many years.

"You cannot stop the march for progress in the United States," he said.

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nicole.gaouette@latimes.com

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