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All Last Month News & Analysis

Posted Friday, October 26, 2007
Bill for Immigrant Students Fails Test Vote in Senate


WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 — A bill to grant legal status to illegal immigrants who are high school graduates was defeated Wednesday in a test vote in the Senate, significantly dimming the prospects for any major immigration legislation this year.

By a vote of 52 to 44, the bill failed to garner the 60 votes needed to proceed to a debate on the Senate floor. The bill, sponsored by Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, would have given provisional legal status to illegal immigrant students who completed high school if they either attended college or served in the military for two years.

Lawmakers said Mr. Durbin’s bill was a litmus test for the immigration issue because it was the most politically palatable piece of the broad immigration legislation backed by President Bush that failed last summer in the Senate.

Mr. Durbin’s measure, called the Dream Act by its supporters, was tailored to benefit young, successful students whose immigration status was the result of decisions by their parents to come to the United States illegally, in many cases when the children were small.

Republican sponsors of the bill included Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana.

The vote showed that Republican opposition remained resolute to any effort to give legal status to illegal immigrants. It also eroded the support of some Democrats for other immigration measures under discussion. Those include a bill known as AgJobs that would give legal status to illegal immigrant farmworkers and overhaul a guest worker program for agriculture. Employers are also asking Congress to expand and streamline visa programs to bring in highly skilled legal immigrant workers.

“They’ll all be hard, every one of them,” Mr. Durbin said of the other immigration initiatives after the vote on his bill. He expressed frustration that business groups backing the other measures had not rallied behind the student bill.

Conservative Republicans voted against the bill on the same ground that they opposed the legislation in June, maintaining that it rewarded immigrant lawbreakers. But negative votes also came from Republicans and some Democrats who were reluctant to reopen the bitterly divisive debate over immigration for what they called a narrow piece of legislation.

The White House rejected Mr. Durbin’s bill in a statement just before the vote, saying it should not be adopted without strong enforcement measures against illegal immigration. The administration said the bill would open a path to citizenship for such students that other immigrants, including many here legally, would not enjoy.

Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who strongly supported the broader immigration legislation, voted no, saying the stand-alone Durbin measure “weakens our position to get a comprehensive bill.”

By scheduling the vote for Wednesday, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the majority leader, fulfilled a promise he made last month after Republicans blocked

Mr. Durbin from attaching his bill to Defense Department spending legislation. But Mr. Reid appeared pessimistic about the student measure’s chances, since he called the vote on short notice. Mr. Durbin said he had pruned the bill to reduce its beneficiaries. To be eligible for legal status, illegal immigrant students would have had to arrive in the United States before they were 16 years old, have lived in this country for at least five years and be under 30 on the date of passage. Still, conservatives called the measure a “backdoor amnesty,” saying it could benefit more than one million illegal immigrants.


Reluctance among lawmakers to reopen a divisive debate.


Eleven Republicans voted for the bill. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who was a strong supporter, did not vote because he was recovering at home from surgery on a blocked artery.

Among the least disappointed in the vote were several immigrant students who would have benefited under the bill, who met in Mr. Durbin’s office after the vote.

“We’re still really hopeful, and maybe even more excited even though this might have been a temporary block in the road,” said Tam Tran, a 24-year-old immigrant born in Germany to Vietnamese parents, who recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

“We’re excited that it’s gotten this far,” said Ms. Tran, who is here on a temporary legal status. She said knowing of the possibility of the measure had motivated her to finish college.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, National, of Thursday, October 25, 2007.

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