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US Immigration Reform in Limbo

The fate of an effort to overhaul America's oft-lambasted immigration system is in question now that leaders in the opposition-controlled U.S. Senate have set aside a bill after days of intense debate and a flurry of amendments from both Republican and Democratic members. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington.

Late last week, the Senate ended consideration of a bill that would strengthen U.S. border security while providing a path to legal status for an estimated 12 million illegal aliens currently residing in the United States. The bill would also crack down on companies that hire undocumented laborers, while establishing a temporary guest worker program.

Appearing on CNN's Late Edition program, one of President Bush's point men on immigration, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, remained optimistic that Congress will, in the end, pass some form of immigration reform.

"We are more determined ever to get it through," said Carlos Gutierrez. "We have a bill here that will strengthen national security, that will improve our economy, and that will make us a stronger society. We should not walk away and keep the status quo. Walking away from the bill suggests that we are comfortable with the status quo."

If there is one area of broad agreement among U.S. legislators, it is that the current immigration system is a failure. But just how to fix it is a matter of fierce disagreement, making it extremely difficult to craft a bill that will attract enough support to secure passage, according to Democratic Senator Evan Bayh.

"Every time you try to enforce the borders more, you offend people on the left," said Evan Bayh. "Whenever you try to regularize the status of people, you offend folks who want to enforce the borders. So, yes, there is a possibility [of passing a bill], but it is going to take some hard work."

Mr. Bayh, who represents the state of Indiana, also spoke on CNN.

But if Congress remains in gridlock over immigration and no bill is passed, then the current system will remain, however unpopular it may be. One of the sponsors of the reform initiative, Republican Senator John Kyl of Arizona, says the current system - in which millions of illegal immigrants violate U.S. laws - is detrimental to America's democracy.

"Respect for the rule of law is a fundamental principle of any successful society and certainly a key to the American experience," said Senator Kyl. "And when people see the law being flaunted every day and their government not enforcing the law, it corrodes society. It causes people to begin to lack confidence in their government."

There has been partisan finger-pointing over who is to blame for the legislative stalemate on immigration. Democrats accuse Republicans of proposing an unending wave of amendments to scuttle the bill, while Republicans accuse the Senate's Democratic leadership of failing to give the body enough time for debate.

Senator Bayh says securing immigration reform would be easier if Americans were less worried about their economic future.

"What we really need is an agenda for middle-class economic prosperity, because our country has been a welcoming country," he said. "That is particularly so when economic times are reasonably good. When there is economic anxiety like there is today, people get a little more concerned [less open to newcomers]."

Even if the Senate were to act on immigration reform, the bill would still have to pass the House before it could go to President Bush to be signed into law. Political analysts say opposition to some measures contained in the bill is even stronger in the House than in the Senate.