Democrats and Republicans who blocked the Senate immigration bill this week say it’s now time to focus on immigration law enforcement, and say President Bush should still find a way to pump $4.4 billion he promised into border security.
“There is a consensus that we must secure our borders and enforce our laws. So let’s start there,” said Sen. Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina Republican; while Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, said Congress should “find common-sense solutions to the labor concerns we face in the agriculture industry and start doing what we all know needs to be done — secure the border and enforce our existing laws.”
The bill fell apart on a 53-46 vote to block further action — 14 votes shy of the 60 needed to end debate and set a final up-or-down vote. Many senators credited the defeat to outraged voters, who continued even through yesterday, a day after the bill failed, to call Senate offices to demand senators vote against the already-dead measure.
Now, the House must decide whether to press forward. Yesterday, Democratic leaders were unsure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said after next week’s July Fourth holiday break they will “take stock of what the options are and go from there.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told The Washington Times that he wants to pass a broad bill, but said Democrats won’t tackle that unless more Republicans agree to support that position.
He didn’t rule out taking a piecemeal approach, adding that there are some individual bills, such as the Dream Act to give illegal aliens in high school and college access to in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, that might be passed.
“I don’t know how we’re going to go about that right now,” Mr. Hoyer said. “I don’t rule it out that there won’t be, if people conclude that immigration reform is not going to move forward, then we ought to look into component parts.”
Sen. James H. Webb Jr. said the component to proceed from is funding the $4.4 billion in security needs Mr. Bush identified during his campaign to pass the bill.
“I believe we should proceed with appropriating these funds for enhanced border security and workplace enforcement,” the Virginia Democrat said after voting to block the bill. “I will make it a priority over the course of this legislative session to see that this appropriation of funds happens.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican and one of two senators who suggested Mr. Bush inject money into border security, said that money should be “de-coupled” from the rest of the debate and committed immediately in the form of an emergency spending bill.
“There’s no greater emergency right now than securing our border,” Mr. Isakson said. “An authorization is a promise, and an appropriation is a commitment. It is time that Congress makes a commitment and makes border security a reality.”
Mr. Bush had staked himself to the Senate’s broad bill, which included citizenship rights for illegal aliens and a guest-worker program for future workers. Yesterday, White House press secretary Tony Snow said they are waiting for Congress.
“There seems to be widespread consent, for instance, on security measures,” he said. “But we’re going to have to find out what goes on on the Hill.”
White House officials said they already have enough money in the pipeline to pay for most of the security improvements Mr. Bush promised by the time he leaves office at the end of 2008: more than 18,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents, 370 miles of fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, and another 200 miles of vehicle barriers.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said they will meet those goals, though he said they can only be met “if Congress gives us the money to do it.” Congress is in the middle of writing its appropriations bills to run through Sept. 30, 2008.