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US Senate Rejects Efforts to Derail Immigration Bill

The U.S. Senate has voted down proposals that could have derailed a broad immigration reform bill. The action came after President Bush urged lawmakers to back the legislation. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Senate rejected challenges to the immigration bill from both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.

Senators voted 66-29 late Thursday against a measure sponsored by Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana to strip the bill of a provision that would grant the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the United States legal status if they obtain a so-called 'z visa'.

Vitter argued the provision rewards immigrants who crossed U.S. borders illegally.

"The 'z visa' amnesty provision absolutely rewards those who have broken the law," said David Vitter.

But Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, argued the plan is not amnesty because undocumented workers can only gain legal status after meeting certain conditions, including paying a fine, learning English and undergoing a background check.

"Legalization is important for our national security, we have to know who is in the United States of America," said Ted Kennedy.

Earlier, the Senate voted 49 to 48 against a Democratic-sponsored proposal to phase out temporary worker provision after five years. Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat was the sponsor:

"Why don't we take a look in five years and see, were the claims that were made for the temporary worker provision, were they claims that turned out to be accurate," he asked.

The guest worker proposal would allow temporary workers to come to the United States on two-year visas and renew them up to three times, but only after they return to the home countries for a year.

Many Democrats are critical of the plan, saying it would depress wages of U.S. workers and would deny temporary workers the opportunity to become American citizens.

It was Dorgan's second unsuccessful challenge to the guest worker program. Earlier this week he proposed stripping the bill of the provision, but that, too, was rejected. A separate Democratic amendment to slash the number of temporary worker visas issued each year from 400,000 to 200,000 was approved on Wednesday.

The guest worker program and the provision that would grant legal status to undocumented workers are seen as the key underpinnings of the immigration reform bill, and supporters warned that removing either one of them would kill the overall legislation.

The Senate action came after President Bush urged lawmakers to approve the legislation, which also includes measures to boost border security.

"If you are serious about securing our borders and bringing millions of illegal immigrants in our country out of the shadows, this bipartisan bill is the best opportunity to move forward," said President Bush.

Senators are expected to vote on the overall legislation when they return from a week-long recess in early June.

The House is scheduled to begin debating the issue later this year.