Sen. Lindsey Graham, the sole Republican working on a bill to legalize illegal immigrants, in effect put the bill on the shelf on Tuesday, saying that a debate now would destroy any prospects for passage and that the issue needs to wait until 2012.
The remarks likely signal the end of any serious chance for broad immigration legislation to pass this year, since Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican, was the best hope for a partnership with President Obama and Democrats who want to write a bill.
"It is impossible for me and any other serious Democrat to get this body to move forward until we prove to the American people we can secure our borders," Mr. Graham told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who was testifying at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
"I believe we can do it by 2012 if we're smart," he said.
Ms. Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, disagreed with Mr. Graham's evaluation of border security. She said she knows the southwest border as well as anyone and, by every measure Congress has laid out, the border is more secure: Fewer illegal immigrants are being apprehended, and more fencing and infrastructure have been deployed.
But under close questioning by Mr. Graham, Ms. Napolitano could not say whether she would declare the border secure if she were still the governor of Arizona. She called it an "unfair question."
"It is a fair question, and I'll give you my answer: I don't think it is," Mr. Graham said. "I think since the last effort to solve immigration the border situation has deteriorated."
Mr. Graham has been working with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, to write a bill, but he said any effort to bring it up now would so anger Americans that it would kill any chance of getting the issue passed this year and in the near future.
"If immigration comes up this year, it's absolutely devastating to the future of this issue," he said.
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