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Senate vote halts immigration bill

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate’s attempt at comprehensive immigration reform suffered a resounding setback June 28.

Supporters of a hotly debated and complex bill gained only 46 of the 60 senators needed to advance it toward a vote on final passage. The vote signaled the end of Senate consideration of immigration reform for now, with at least one senator predicting such legislation is dead for the remaining year and a half of the congressional session.

The verdict of the roll call to limit debate was not surprising, but the weakness of the vote for the measure was. The roll call, known as a cloture vote, was 46 for and 53 against. Twelve Republicans joined 33 Democrats and an independent in voting to invoke cloture, while 15 Democrats and an independent sided with 37 GOP members in opposing it.

The failed vote was a defeat not only for the coalition of Democrats and Republicans who worked together on the compromise legislation but for President Bush as well. He has been urging comprehensive reform in his second term and had been strongly promoting the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act, S. 1639.

Bush expressed disappointment after the vote.

“The American people understand the status quo is unacceptable when it comes to our immigration laws,” he said. “A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find a common ground –- it didn’t work.”

Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land has called for comprehensive reform but said the vote demonstrated Congress still has not found the solution to the problem.

“The status of illegal immigration and the lack of security on our borders are intolerable,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Americans agree about that. Unfortunately, as this vote in the Senate indicates, a broad enough consensus has not been reached on the best way to address the many problems of border security and the status of illegal immigrants.

“As I have stated before on numerous occasions, the legislation that will attract a broad consensus of evangelicals and the American population has yet to be drafted,” Land said. “Clearly, today’s vote shows that is still true.

“I encourage the Congress to renew their efforts to come up with legislative measures to address the urgent problems presented by illegal immigration,” Land said. “In a representative democracy, one must have consensus support among the people for their elected representatives to be able to pass such legislation.”

Members of the president’s own party led the resistance to the measure, which proposed strengthened border security and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Foes argued that the bill’s plan to enable illegal immigrants to become American citizens constituted amnesty for law-breakers and said securing the borders is the main problem. There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R.-S.C., said the bill “created a crisis of confidence” for Americans in their government.

“Americans do not want more of the same -– amnesty and broken promises on the border,” DeMint said in a written statement. “There is a better way forward without this bill. Once we have secured the border and restored trust with the American people, we can begin to take additional steps.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada described the vote as “a profound disappointment.”

“The current system is broken, but there were not enough senators willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work to fix it,” Reid said in a written release. “The president worked hard, and so did many senators. But the big winner today was obstruction. The big winner today was inaction. The big winner today was a status quo that amounts to silent amnesty.”

The June 28 cloture vote was the second of the week on the immigration bill. On June 26, the Senate had voted 64-35 to bring the proposal back to the floor. A cloture vote June 7 had failed, ending consideration of the bill at that time.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., led the effort to pass the bill as its sponsor, and Sen. Jon Kyl, R.-Ariz., worked as a leader of a group of GOP senators in support of the measure.

The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution on illegal immigration by an overwhelming vote at its 2006 annual meeting. That measure urged increased border security and enforcement of the laws, while encouraging Christian outreach to immigrants regardless of their legal status.

The ERLC’s Land has promoted a comprehensive approach to the immigration problem but has refused to endorse a specific piece of legislation. He has denied the term “comprehensive legislation” is a code for “amnesty.”

He said in an April commentary the legislation that will gain his endorsement will line up with four points made in the SBC’s resolution. It will:

— “Insure the federal government provides for U.S. security ‘by controlling and securing our borders;’

— “Enforce immigration laws, including oversight of the hiring practices of private employers;

— “Deal judiciously and ‘realistically’ with those in the country illegally; and,

— “Allow the people of God to act ‘redemptively,’ reaching out to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all immigrants as they work toward an earned pathway of ‘legal status and/or citizenship.'”

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