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Posted Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Immigration Bill Clears Test Vote in Senate

WASHINGTON, June 26 — A bill to overhaul the immigration system, all but given up for dead two weeks ago, cleared a crucial test vote in the Senate today, bolstering its chances for passage by the Senate within days.

The senators voted, 64 to 35, to invoke cloture, or move to consideration of the bill itself. Since 60 votes are required for cloture, and only 45 voted for cloture two weeks ago, the measure’s supporters were heartened by today’s vote. Had the cloture vote failed today, the bill would have been dead for the foreseeable future.

The Senate’s next step is to consider a batch of amendments, some designed to be easier on illegal immigrants, some meant to be tougher. The amendments’ differing intentions underline the fragility of the coalition behind the bill. Another make-or-break cloture vote could come before this weekend, and it is by no means certain that those who vote for cloture will vote for the bill itself.

President Bush, who supports the Senate bill, was optimistic before today’s vote and pledged that the White House would stay involved. “Our view is, if the status quo is unacceptable, we need to replace it with something that is acceptable and have been working toward that end with both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate,” he said. “We’ll be moving our attention to the House when the Senate passes a comprehensive piece of legislation.”

“I view this as an historic opportunity,” Mr. Bush said.

The president and Senate supporters of the bill say it would go a long way toward securing America’s borders, helping illegal immigrants without granting them amnesty and organizing a guest-worker program that would benefit American businesses while helping immigrants. The bill’s opponents, including many Republicans conservatives, contend that it would grant amnesty no matter what its supporters say, and would not do enough to protect security.

Even if the Senate does pass an immigration bill, it will have to be reconciled with whatever measure the House passes. Putting together enough support for a bill in the House could be at least as difficult as it has been in the Senate.

The debate before today’s cloture vote followed the lines that is has for weeks.

“It may not be perfect,” said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and a key backer of the bill. But over all, he said, it is “a good bill” and perhaps the last best chance for a long time to fix a broken system.

But a prominent critic of the bill, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, urged his colleagues to “slow down and read this bill.” If Americans knew what was really in it, he said, they “could be forgiven for doubting the commitment of the federal government” about border security.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, National of Wednesday, June 26, 2007.

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