WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate drove a stake Thursday through President Bush's plan to legalize millions of unlawful immigrants, likely postponing major action on immigration until after the 2008 elections. The bill's supporters fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to limit debate and clear the way for final passage of the legislation, which critics assailed as offering amnesty to illegal immigrants. The vote was 46 to 53 in favor of limiting the debate.
Senators in both parties said the issue is so volatile that Congress is
highly unlikely to revisit it this fall or next year, when the
presidential election will increasingly dominate American politics.
A similar effort collapsed in the Congress last year, and the House has
not bothered with an immigration bill this year, awaiting Senate action.
The vote was a stinging setback for Bush, who advocated the bill as an
imperfect but necessary fix of current immigration practices in which
many illegal immigrants use forged documents or lapsed visas to live
and work in the United States.
It was a victory for Republican conservatives who strongly criticized
the bill's provisions that would have established pathways to lawful
status for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. They
were aided by talk radio and TV hosts who repeatedly attacked the bill
and urged listeners to flood Congress with calls, faxes and e-mails.
The bill would have toughened border security and instituted a new
system for weeding out illegal immigrants from workplaces. It would
have created a new guest worker program and allowed millions of illegal
immigrants to obtain legal status if they briefly returned home.
Bush, making a last-ditch bid to salvage the bill, called senators
early Thursday morning to urge their support. Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez
approached senators as they entered and left the chamber shortly before
"We have been in contact with members of Congress over the past couple
of days and the president has made it clear that this is important to
him," White House spokesman Tony Snow said before the vote.
But GOP conservatives led the opposition. They repeatedly said the
government must secure the borders before allowing millions of illegal
aliens a path to legal status.
"Americans feel that they are losing their country ... to a government
that has seemed to not have the competence or the ability to carry out
the things that it says it will do," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in
the debate's final hour.
Sen. Elizabeth H. Dole, R-N.C., said many Americans "don't have
confidence" that borders, especially with Mexico, will be significantly
tightened. "It's not just promises but proof that the American people
want," Dole said.
But the bill's backers said border security and accommodations to illegal immigrants must go hand in hand.
"Year after year, we've had the broken borders," said Sen. Edward
Kennedy, D-Mass. "Year after year, we've seen the exploitation of
workers. Year after year, we've seen the people who live in fear within
our own borders. This is the opportunity to change it. Now is the time."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told colleagues that if the bill
faltered, the political climate almost surely would not allow a serious
reconsideration until 2009 or later. It would be highly unlikely, she
said, "in the next few years to fix the existing system... We are so
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