- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

Online exclusive: updated 2:18 p.m.

After years of warning voters about the dangers posed by America’s porous borders, the Senate today voted against securing them.

All Democrats and 20 Republicans voted against considering a bill aimed solely at border security. It was the last of three immigration bills voted on in recent days and the only one that did not contain provisions that many called “amnesty.” The 36-62 vote fell 24 “ayes” short of the 60 needed to proceed.

The vote ended several weeks of serious wrangling over a deeply complicated legislative issue and capped several days of furious political maneuvering.

The vote immediately followed the major collapse of a deal that Democrats and Republicans reached yesterday. That deal came apart as Democrats refused to allow consideration of several Republican amendments, including one that would have barred U.S. citizenship for any illegal alien convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors or any illegal alien who had ignored a court order to leave the country.

“I believe there are some people who would rather have no bill,” said Sen. Mel Martinez, the Florida Republican who co-sponsored with Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, a compromise that had visibly thrilled Democrats earlier in the day.

“We’re looking like we’re going to be able to dance,” Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada had enthused yesterday in an impromptu morning press conference with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican — the co-authors of the bill that Republicans blocked yesterday — pronounced the new compromise a victory and said in a joint statement that they were “proud” to join in support of it.

However, as the day wore on, staffers on Capitol Hill and lobbyists interested in the issue read through the 525 pages of legislation, and by late last night, leaders on both sides of the aisle told reporters they were highly doubtful that Martinez-Hagel would still be alive after a vote today.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the No. 5 Republican in the Senate, came out against it.

“I think the compromise is wrong because it still allows people to come to our country illegally and know that if they wait long enough, they will be able to get into the citizenship track with very little responsibility,” she said yesterday.

Other conservatives derided the proposal and said it didn’t differ much from the earlier bill, which died yesterday when just 39 senators voted to end debate and bring it to a final vote.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and a firm opponent of amnesty, said the compromise was “essentially the same as the Kennedy-McCain bill that was crushed by a 60-39 vote today.” The primary conservative concern with both proposals is that they would let illegal aliens remain working in the U.S. while applying for citizenship. They would pay a $2,000 fine but would not be deported as required by current federal law.

Across the spectrum, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney warned that the proposal would “drive millions of hardworking immigrants further into the shadows of American society, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.” Union officials also worry about their membership having to compete with lower-priced labor.

The only difference between the Kennedy-McCain bill and the Hagel-Martinez proposal is that the former would have granted “amnesty” to all eligible illegal aliens who have been in the United States for more than two years. The latter proposal would grant that same “amnesty” only to aliens who have been here five years or more.

Under the Hagel-Martinez proposal, those who have resided here illegally from two to five years also could apply for citizenship but would have to submit their applications in person at a land U.S. port of entry.

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