Immigration Bill Defeat Lamented by Bush, Congressional Leaders

By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - President Bush, U.S. congressional leaders and immigration advocacy groups are lamenting the defeat of legislation that would have made the biggest changes in U.S. immigration law in more than 20 years.

The compromise bill was pulled from consideration June 28 following a 53-46 vote in the U.S. Senate against cutting off debate - stopping debate would have allowed the measure to move to a vote on passage in that chamber.

Both the bill’s supporters and opponents in Congress said the legislation was “dead” for the remainder of the Bush administration, which ends in January 2009.

The bill aimed to create a temporary “guest worker” program for foreigners seeking employment in the United States, a pathway to provide legal status to millions of illegal immigrants in America, while beefing up measures to strengthen U.S. borders.

Bush said in a June 28 statement that he was disappointed that Congress failed to enact the bill.

Legal immigration is one of the “top priorities” of the American people and they understand the “status quo is unacceptable when it comes to our immigration laws,” Bush said.

Bush said “a lot of us worked hard” to find common ground on crafting a bill that would pass Congress.  “It didn’t work,” he said.

The president has said the last time a sweeping immigration bill was enacted, in 1986, the law failed because it did not secure U.S. borders, did not create a reliable system for employers to verify the legal status of their workers and encouraged more people to come to America illegally.  (See related article.)

Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, the Democratic Party’s chief sponsor of the bill, said that without new immigration legislation, the situation will get worse in the United States regarding what to do with the country’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.  He voiced optimism that eventually an immigration bill would be enacted.

“You can’t stop the march for progress in the United States,” he said.

California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein also said she expected the eventual enactment of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.  “We will be back,” she said.

Senate support and opposition to the bill created unusual bipartisan alliances of legislators.  Some 33 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one independent, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, voted to keep the bill alive.  But 37 Republicans, 15 Democrats and liberal independent Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders voted to sustain the debate, thus effectively killing the bill.

A Washington-based immigration advocacy group, the League of United Latin American Citizens, called on Congress to make a “fresh start” at creating a bill that can win majority support.  The Hispanic group urged Congress to pass a bill that ensures border security while bringing the 12 million undocumented people in the United States “out of the shadows.”

Another Washington advocate, the National Council of La Raza, said the bill’s defeat is a “victory for the status quo, and no one should be happy about that.”

La Raza said the Senate vote is a “setback, not the death knell, for comprehensive immigration reform.  We are not giving up on getting a real, effective and fair solution to the immigration issue.”

The Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said, in deploring the bill’s defeat, that the situation regarding immigration in the United States is “simply indefensible.  Families remain at risk of being split up, businesses remain unable to hire legal workers for all their jobs, and the immigration system cannot effectively devote resources to protect America's security or future.”


However, opponents, such as Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, called the bill an “unworkable mess, and I cannot support it.”  The bill’s call for foreign guest workers in the United States could drive down wages for Americans “on the lower rungs of the economic ladder,” Harkin said.

Another Senate Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, said the bill was “not only hopelessly flawed, it is unsalvageable.  We have to start over” on a new immigration bill.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said: “I just don’t think the bill struck the right balance.  People were troubled by the proposed solution for the 12 million people here [in the United States] illegally.”

Another opponent, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said an “integrated lobbying strategy” in the United States involving talk-radio shows, e-mails, phone calls, the Internet and “local grassroots activists” brought the bill down.  The group said the legislation was “weak, impractical and unfair in the extreme.”


Even as partisans debate the contentious immigration issue, the United States is welcoming legal immigrants to America with a new Web site - - that helps them find such things as the requirements for naturalization, the location of nearby English-language classes or a copy of the U.S. Constitution.  (See related article.)

For more information on U.S. policies, see Visas and Immigration.