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Immigration Test bill fails key test-vote

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 22 minutes ago http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070607/ap_on_go_co/immigration_congress

A fragile bipartisan compromise that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants suffered a setback Thursday when it failed a test vote in the Senate, leaving its prospects uncertain.

Still, the measure — a top priority for President Bush that's under attack from the right and left — got a reprieve when Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D-Nev., said he would give it more time before yanking the bill and moving on to other matters.

"We need to complete this marathon," Reid said.

His decision set the stage for yet another procedural vote later Thursday that will measure lawmakers' appetite for a so-called "grand bargain" between liberals and conservatives on immigration.

By a vote of 33-63, the Senate fell far short of the 60 votes that would have been needed to limit debate on the immigration measure and put it on a path to passage. Republicans — even those who helped craft the measure and are expected to support it — banded together to oppose that move, while a majority of Democrats backed it.

Republicans were seeking assurances they would get chances to add several conservative-backed changes that would toughen the measure.

Proponents in both parties were scrambling to find a way of reversing a blow their compromise sustained earlier Thursday, when the Senate voted to phase out the bill's temporary worker program after five years.

The 49-48 vote just after midnight on making the temporary worker program itself temporary came two weeks after the Senate, also by a one-vote margin, rejected an amendment by Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record) to eliminate it entirely from the bill. The North Dakota Democrat says immigrants take many jobs Americans could fill.

Dorgan's success on his second effort dismayed backers of the immigration bill, which is loathed by many conservatives.

The bill would tighten borders, hike penalties for those who hire illegals and give many of the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status.

The Bush administration, along with business interests and their congressional allies, were already angry that the temporary worker program had been cut in half from its original 400,000-person-a-year target.

A five-year sunset, they said, could knock the legs from the precarious bipartisan coalition. The change "is a tremendous problem, but it's correctable," said Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa. Backers will try as early as Thursday to persuade at least one senator to help reverse the outcome yet again, he added.

Congress could block the legalization of millions of unlawful immigrants if it deemed the border too porous under a Republican proposal also slated for a vote Thursday.

An amendment by conservative Sens. Tom Coburn (news, bio, voting record), R-Okla., and Jim DeMint (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., would require a congressional vote to certify that border security and workplace enforcement "triggers" were in place before the legalization or a new guest worker program could take effect.

It was one of several challenges the measure was facing from across the political spectrum as its backers struggled to steer clear of potentially fatal changes and push it to quick passage.

Until the Dorgan vote was tallied, Specter and other architects of the compromise had succeeded in avoiding a minefield of major challenges, fending off several amendments, including two from Democratic presidential candidates.

Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill., lost the vote on his bid to end a new point system for those seeking permanent resident "green cards" after five years rather than 14 years. Also defeated was an amendment from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York to remove limits on visas for the spouses and minor children of immigrants with permanent resident status.

Senators also rejected a proposal by Robert Menendez (news, bio, voting record), D-N.J., that would have boosted the number of immigrants who could get green cards based purely on family ties, rather than having to qualify through education or skill level.

They had turned back a bid to reduce the number of illegal immigrants who could gain lawful status.

___

Associated Press writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.

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