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Senate Immigration Debate Nears Closure

June 7, 2007

The immigration reform proposal under debate in the U.S. Senate survived what would have been a lethal blow Wednesday when an amendment that would have severely limited its legalization program was narrowly defeated.

A vote to end the debate that has cut across party lines inside the Senate and across the country is expected today in a cloture proceeding called for by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Reid said he hopes to reach a final vote early next week on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, formally known as S.B. 1348.

An amendment proposed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) would have barred those who have disobeyed deportation orders or engaged in identity fraud from receiving special "Z-visas" that would offer legalization to the country's estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. It was defeated, 51-46, with its opponents noting that illegal immigrants have commonly used fake IDs to secure work. There are also an estimated 600,000 aliens who have avoided deportation orders that would have otherwise been affected by the amendment.

Instead, the Senate approved, 66-32, an alternative amendment introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the bill's chief architects, that bars convicted sex offenders, smugglers, domestic abusers and other criminals from the legalization program.

Additionally, in a 57-41 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D N.M.) to allow foreign workers to remain in the country for six consecutive years. The current bill requires the temporary laborers to return home for a year after the two-year Y-visas expire, before they are allowed to reapply.

An amendment by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) that would have delayed a proposed point system for legal immigration in favor of family members of those in the U.S. was also defeated. It needed 60 votes under a procedural rule invoked by the amendment's opponents, but received only 53 votes.

Corporate leaders, including Microsoft CEO Steven A. Ballmer, have pleaded with Congress to increase the number of H1-B visas and green cards available to foreign workers with special skills, saying the current bill would make it difficult to hire for specific jobs. At the moment, however, no action has been taken in this regard.