A procedural maneuver to limit further debate on a contested immigration bill failed Thursday, falling 14 votes shy of the necessary 60.
A South Dakota senator did not vote, making the tally 46 yeas and 53 nays.
The bill, which would have offered a new mechanism for legalization for millions of illegal immigrants, was assailed by opponents as an amnesty bill while its proponents - President Bush among them - hailed it as a means to reform the county’s immigration system.
According to Associated Press reports, senators from both parties said the issue is so volatile Congress is unlikely to revisit it this fall or next year, when the presidential election will dominate American politics.
Both of Texas’ senators voted against limiting debate.
“Despite today’s bipartisan vote against this flawed bill, securing our borders and passing comprehensive immigration reform must remain one of our top priorities. The problem is not going away. In fact, it will only get worse,” Sen. John Cornyn said in a statement.
Criticizing the process in which the bill was composed, Cornyn added, “It is my strong hope, however, that the effort to reach a comprehensive solution will not be abandoned.
“The Senate should redouble its efforts to pass a bill that secures our borders, implements broader reform of our broken immigration system, without amnesty, and meets the needs of the economy,” he said.
Kay Bailey Hutchison, a 14-year veteran of the Senate, said she is “disappointed that the Senate produced an immigration bill that I could not support.
“From the beginning I worked for a comprehensive immigration reform which secures the border and creates a workable temporary worker program without amnesty,” she said. “But the Senate chose to rush a deeply flawed bill in a closed process, which I cannot support.
“Now, I believe we must start fresh and demonstrate to the American people that we can secure the border and create a sensible temporary worker program to supply the needs of our economy in an orderly way,” she said.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives also weighed in on the issue.
Congressman Joe Barton, TX-6, said in a statement that any “action taken by the U.S. Congress to modify the system of immigration in this country must fix the current problems we face, not make them worse.
“The hotly-contested Senate bill offered by Sen. Ted Kennedy was bad for Texas and for the rest of the country, and I’m pleased that it was voted down,” he said. “Rewarding those who have broken our laws by providing them with amnesty would only ensure our broken immigration system continues for years to come.
“As a member of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, I’m determined to see a solution reached that will secure our borders, provide real enforcement of our current laws, and create a viable worker verification system to crack down on illegal hiring,” he said.
On a local level, Ellis County’s Republican and Democratic Party chairmen spoke out on the Senate’s actions.
“I’m excited that enough Republican Senators saw fit to close this auction out and kill the immigration bill,” GOP county chairman Rusty Ballard said. “I was very concerned that the Republican leadership and Republicans had stopped listening to the grassroots and American citizens.”
Ballard also praised Hutchison and Cornyn “for taking a lead role and talking about what a bad deal it was,” adding that their actions were particularly noticeable due to the fact that the bill was supported by fellow Texan, President George Bush.
“Both of our home senators deserve accolades for doing that,” Ballard said.
“I have never seen an issue that has produced so many arguments by so many fractious interests,” Democratic county chairman Larry Wilson said. “Business interests are divided: U.S. Chamber of Commerce is for the bill while the National Association of Home Builders is against. Labor is not completely united: The AFL-CIO opposes the bill while the Service Employees International Union supports the wider immigrant legalization provisions.
“Even immigrant advocacy groups are divided,” Wilson said. “The National Council of La Raza supports the bill but has specific concerns. The League of United Latin American Citizens is against the reforms in the bill.”
Wilson noted that “the immigration bill seemed to try to address every problem: border security, current illegal immigrants, guest worker program, and employer enforcement … and with the demise of the bill none are solved. This complicated, contentious issue cannot be solved in any ‘one size fits all’ legislation.”
“Each major part (of the issue) must be addressed individually,” Wilson said. “Our porous border is used by those who become illegal immigrants but I consider border control to be primarily a homeland security issue. This portion should be addressed separately and the sooner the better. We need to know who is crossing the border and for what purpose.
“The illegal immigrant portion of the bill is the most divisive part. The solution will not be easy as we just witnessed,” he said. “A lot of the senators would not budge from their opposition stating a major portion of their constituency was adamantly opposed to one or more key provisions. No compromise. No deal. No bill.”
However, even with the very divisive issues in the bill, Wilson believes there’s one that has been overlooked.
“To my knowledge there is one item that was not addressed by this omnibus bill and that item is the root cause for the illegal crossing of the border in the first place,” Wilson said. “The Mexican economy does not provide a sufficient wage for its workers at home. I have read that the Mexican government does not want this to change as the existing situation keeps a lot of dollars flowing into their economy from the wages of illegal immigrants here.”
President George Bush issued a statement, thanking “the members of the Senate and members of my administration who worked so hard on the border security and immigration reform bill. …
“Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people and Congress’ failure to act on it is a disappointment,” the president said. “The American people understand the status quo is unacceptable when it comes to our immigration laws. A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find a common ground - it didn’t work.
“Congress really needs to prove to the American people that it can come together on hard issues,” he said.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials also reacted to the vote’s failure, saying it is “deeply disappointed at the Senate’s failure to fulfill the mandate of the American people to fix our broken immigration system,” adding, “our Latino elected officials from across the country, at every level of elected office, are concerned that the Senate’s failure now opens the door to more anti-immigrant, anti-Latino measures across the nation.”
E-mail Anthony at Anthony.Trojan@waxahachiedailylight.com