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US Senate Blocks Major Immigration Reform Bill

The U.S. Senate has again blocked a sweeping immigration reform bill, handing a key defeat to President Bush, who has made the issue a top domestic priority. The Senate action Thursday likely dooms the legislation until after next year's presidential election. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Senate voted 46 to 53 to limit debate and move the bill to a final vote. Under Senate rules, 60 votes were necessary in the 100-member chamber to move the bill forward.

The legislation called for tougher border security, a temporary worker program, and an immediate granting of legal status for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Senator Ted Kennedy was a key supporter of the bill.

"Year after year we have had the broken borders. Year after year we have had the exploitation of workers. Year after year we see the people that have lived in fear within our own borders of the United States of America," he said. "This is the opportunity to change it. Now is the time."

But his appeal was not enough to overcome the opposition, much of which came from lawmakers of President Bush's own Republican Party. They argued the bill would not go far enough in securing U.S. borders and would reward immigrants who came to this country illegally with the promise of U.S. citizenship.

But many Democrats, and their labor union allies, also opposed the measure because, they argued, the temporary worker provision would create an underclass of cheap laborers.

Immigrant advocate groups also criticized the legislation's limits on family migration.

A grassroots campaign by various groups opposing the bill resulted in a flood of phone calls to lawmakers urging defeat of the measure.

Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican and vocal opponent of the bill, says that had an impact on senators.

"This recent vote was a great victory, not for any individual senator, but for the American people," he said. "They were heard only because they demanded to be heard."

The bill had been blocked earlier this month by opponents, only to be revived amid an intense lobbying campaign by President Bush. But his efforts to secure more support, including phone calls and a rare meeting with fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill, were to no avail.

The president reacted to the Senate action during a visit to the eastern state of Rhode Island.

"Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people and Congress' failure to act on it is a disappointment," he said.

Supporters vow to try again.

"We will be back," added Senator Kennedy. "This issue is not going away. Ultimately, we will be successful."

But with the 2008 presidential campaign to begin in earnest later this year, many lawmakers believe that the heated partisan atmosphere accompanying the campaign will make it unlikely that the issue can be thoughtfully debated until after a new president is in office in January 2009.

That was a point made by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, as he appealed for support for the bill ahead of the vote.

"A temporary worker program and merit-based immigration is a good deal for this country and if we say 'no' today, good luck ever getting it again," he said.

The House of Representatives has not drafted its own version of the bill because it had been awaiting Senate action.