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CSI Congress: Who slew immigration bill?


GDO Report

As a murder mystery, the death of immigration reform is a tale with many suspects.

There were Republicans who wanted it killed because they thought it gave amnesty to illegal immigrants. Some Democrats didn't like it much because it threatened to push down workers' wages.

In the end, the compromise immigration reform bill that tried to please everyone might not have been capable of surviving.

"It was an ambitious attempt but it was vulnerable from both extremes," said former Gov. Dick Lamm, a vocal supporter of tougher border enforcement. "Both extremes have their hand on the dagger that killed it."

There are still people who could resuscitate immigration-reform legislation. President Bush plans to meet with Republican senators Tuesday at their weekly lunch. Both Colorado Sens. Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard said they are optimistic the legislation will resurface this year.

But for now, the bill is off the Senate's agenda.

The group of about 12 senators who crafted it - including Salazar - initially expressed optimism about passage.

But those who disliked the bill pounced.

Groups opposed to legal status for illegal immigrants rallied supporters to call and e-mail senators. One such group, grassfire.org., said Friday that it "sent over 700,000 petitions, faxes and thousands of phone calls to Senate offices."

"I've listened to talk-show hosts drumming up the opposition by using this word 'amnesty' over and over and over again, and essentially raising the roil of Americans to the extent that in my 15 years, I've never received more hate or more racist phone calls and threats," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Trying to make the bill more appealing to voters, Democratic and Republican senators then tried to reshape it through amendments. The legislation's demise essentially came last week when amendments were passed that severely rankled both sides.

The first, from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, eliminated a provision that promised illegal immigrants their undocumented status wouldn't be turned over to local police if they applied to stay in the country. Cornyn's amendment said that in some cases, the Department of Homeland Security could release that information. It passed 57-39, with 11 Democrats voting in favor. Some Democrats had considered that provision vital, saying illegal immigrants wouldn't come forward if they feared arrest.

Then the Senate voted 49-48 to end after five years the guest-worker program that Republicans considered vital to business interests.

The death watch started.

On Thursday, some Republicans insisted they needed more opportunity to amend the bill, but wouldn't produce a list of amendments or how much time they needed for debate, said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Republicans who became known as "the dissenters," including Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, blocked GOP measures from coming to the floor.

Supporters of the bill grew frustrated.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to force a vote on whether to end debate and vote on the bill.

That vote failed Thursday morning. A second vote to end debate, held hours later, met the same fate. After a third vote came up short that night, many Republicans blamed Reid, saying he had refused to give them a fair chance to shape the bill.

But the bill's backers said there was not a spirit of cooperation.

"There were some people who, no matter what the bill said, were going to be opposed to it and were employing strategies to cause it to die a slow death, or a swift one," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

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