Released 02 July 2007  By ROBERT PEAR and JOHN HOLUSHA - New York Times
Senate Blocks Effort to Revive Immigration Overhaul
ROBERT PEAR and JOHN HOLUSHA
New York Times
June 28, 2007
WASHINGTON, June 28 -- The Senate voted today to effectively block efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, meaning that the issue is most likely dead until after the 2008 elections.
Needing 60 votes to bring debate on the contentious bill to an end — a step called cloture — and move it toward passage, proponents of the bill could only muster 46 votes in favor today, with 53 opposed.
In the debate leading up to the vote, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said, “If we do not invoke cloture, the bill is dead.”
Today’s vote reverses the Senate’s action on Tuesday, when, with a lot of encouragement from President Bush, the Senate voted, 64-35, to keep working on the bill, which would establish a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country.
The debate just before the vote today was intense, even personal.
“We know what they’re against — we don’t know what they’re for,” Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said of the bill’s opponents. Perhaps, Mr. Kennedy suggested, the bill’s opponents envision some kind of “gestapo” to round up illegal immigrants. “That’s their alternative?” Mr. Kennedy shouted. “That’s their alternative?”
Another supporter of the legislation, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, pleaded with her colleagues not to let the bill lapse. “If we miss this opportunity, there is not likely to be another in the next few years,” she said.
But Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and an opponent of the bill, said the legislation’s supporters — “the masters of the universe,” he called them scathingly — had tried to push the measure through by unfairly limiting debate.
On Wednesday, the Senate killed proposed amendments to the bill from the left and the right. Democrats failed in efforts to promote family unification by providing more visas to parents of United States citizens. Republicans lost in their bid to toughen the bill’s requirements for illegal immigrants who want to become permanent residents and ultimately citizens. Those results reflected the fragile bipartisan compromise embodied in the bill, President Bush’s top domestic priority, which would make the biggest changes in immigration law in more than 20 years.
The debate became unusually testy, and senators tied themselves in procedural knots as they tried to work through a slate of 27 proposed amendments. Some senators obstructed normally routine requests by their colleagues — raising objections, for example, when senators asked to dispense with further proceedings under a quorum call, or to explain their reasons for opposing requests for unanimous consent.
“We are in trench warfare,” said Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, a strong supporter of the bill.
A leading opponent of the measure, Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, said, “I am being railroaded.”The bill would have provided $4.4 billion for border security, increased the penalties for hiring illegal immigrants, created a new guest worker program and offered legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.
By a vote of 53 to 45, the Senate killed a Republican proposal that would have required most adult illegal immigrants to return to their home countries to apply for legal status, in the form of special “Z visas,” which would allow them to work in this country.
The vote does not mean that the “touchback requirement” is dead. The overall bill includes such a requirement for people who want permanent residence visas, known as green cards. And the Senate is scheduled to consider another version of the touchback requirement supported by many Republicans. The proposals respond to criticism from conservatives who denounce the bill as a form of amnesty for people who have broken the law.
The bill would have established a point system to evaluate would-be immigrants, giving more weight to job skills and education and less to family ties.
By a vote of 56 to 41, the Senate killed an amendment by Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, that would have prohibited illegal immigrants from obtaining green cards. In general, under existing law, permanent residents can apply for citizenship after living in the United States for five years.
“If they come here illegally just to work, they have not earned citizenship,” Mr. Bond said. “We are all immigrants, but we did not come here illegally and expect to get citizenship.”
Senator Kennedy, the chief Democratic architect of the bill, said illegal immigrants would be easily exploited if they could never become lawful permanent residents. “We can imagine the resentment, the hostility that will seethe and grow,” Mr. Kennedy said.
By a vote of 79 to 18, the Senate killed a proposal by Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, that would have reduced the number of illegal immigrants who could gain legal status. Under the bill, legal status would be available to immigrants who have been in the United States since Jan. 1. Mr. Webb would have pushed the date back to 2003, requiring four years of “continuous physical presence.” He would also have eliminated the touchback requirement, which he said was unworkable.
Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, complained that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, had “handpicked the amendments” to be considered this week.
Mr. Reid said he had chosen the amendments in consultation with the minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Aides to Mr. McConnell confirmed that.
Influential labor and Hispanic groups had urged the Senate to pass the bill and send it to the House, where they said flaws could be corrected. The groups included the Service Employees International Union, the National Council of La Raza, the United Farm Workers and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“The price of failure will be hundreds of more people dying in the desert,” said Eliseo Medina, an executive vice president of the service employees union. “The price of failure will be more workplace raids and families separated as breadwinners are arrested and deported. The price of failure will be more public anger at the broken immigration system. More states and cities will pass punitive laws that target immigrants.”
David Stout contributed reporting from Washington.