Immigration Bill Appears Dead--Indefinitely

The United States Senate postponed action June 28 on comprehensive immigration reform--perhaps until after the 2008 November election--when an effort to limit debate on the Senate floor failed to garner enough votes.

In all, 46 senators voted to cut off the debate, but 60 votes were needed. The bill prompted a torrent of calls to Senate offices; so many that it was reported the Capitol phone system had to be closed down, the American Horse Council said. Most of the calls were in opposition to the bill.

“In the end, there was just too much controversy and public opposition to the bi-partisan compromise crafted by the White House and both Democratic and Republican Senators,” AHC president Jay Hickey said in a statement. “Obviously, it was not a perfect bill, but there were provisions in it that would have benefited the horse industry, which relies on foreign workers on its farms, ranches, racetracks, shows, and similar facilities.”

The AHC, which supported the legislation, said Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada had threatened before the vote to pull the bill from the floor, for a second time, if the “cloture vote” to limit debate failed. He followed through later in the day when he moved on to other legislation, effectively killing the bill for the foreseeable future.

“The House (of Representatives) has been waiting to see what the Senate would do with immigration reform,” Hickey said. “Now that the bill has failed a second time, it seems unlikely that the House will take up its version of comprehensive reform.”

Border security, additional enforcement capabilities, and a new electronic employment verification system would have had to be in place before many of the other provisions of the bill were triggered, the AHC said in a release. The bill also provided for a new two-year “Y Visa” for temporary workers that would have allowed them to enter the U.S. each year to fill low-skilled jobs, similar to the current H-2A and H-2B programs.  Such workers would have been able to enter the U.S. and work for three two-year terms provided they left the U.S. for a year between each term.

The immigration legislation also included many of the provisions in the agriculture-specific AgJOBS bill, which recognized the special seasonal needs of agriculture, including horse farms.

Undocumented workers in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, 2007 could have applied for a new “Z Visa,” which could be renewed every four years. The AHC said that would have permitted an estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S., including some in the horse industry, to regularize their status and continue working. To receive the visa, workers would have had to pass a criminal background check and pay fines.

“Whether comprehensive legislation can still be considered, or whether a piece-meal approach to reform - like taking border security first, then temporary worker programs, and then handling the millions of undocumented workers - remains to be seen,” Hickey said. “The approach until now has been to try to eat the whole apple at one time. But I suspect there’s not much stomach in Congress for stepping back into that orchard with its hornets’ nests. Maybe after a long break, the will might return. But it has been bruising over the last six weeks in the Senate.”

President Bush has said the legislation is imperfect but necessary to correct a situation by which many illegal immigrants use forged documents or lapsed visas to live and work in the U.S., the Associated Press reported. The bill would have created a new guest-worker program and allowed millions of illegal immigrants to obtain legal status if they briefly returned home.

According to published reports, Republicans led the opposition, claiming the federal government must first secure U.S. borders before it grants immigrants legal status.

“Americans feel they are losing their country to a government that has seemed to not have the competence or the ability to carry out the things that it says it will do,” the Associated Press quoted Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee as saying.

Supporters of the immigration bill claim border security and immigrant status go hand in hand.

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