A bill to grant legal status to illegal immigrants who are high school graduates was defeated on Wednesday in a test vote in the US Senate, significantly dimming the prospects for any major immigration legislation this year.
By a vote of 52-44, the bill failed to garner the 60 votes needed to proceed to a debate on the Senate floor. The bill, sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, would have given provisional legal status to illegal immigrant students who completed high school if they either attended college or served in the military for two years.
Lawmakers said Durbin's bill was a litmus test for the immigration issue because it was the most politically palatable piece of the broad immigration legislation backed by US President George W. Bush that failed last summer in the Senate.
Durbin's measure, called the Dream Act by its supporters, was tailored to benefit young, successful students whose immigration status was the result of decisions by their parents to come to the US illegally, in many cases when the children were small.
The vote showed that Republican opposition remained resolute to any effort to give legal status to illegal immigrants. It also eroded the support of some Democrats for other immigration measures under discussion.
Those include a bill known as AgJobs that would give legal status to illegal immigrant farmworkers and overhaul a guest worker program for agriculture. Employers are also asking Congress to expand and streamline visa programs to bring in highly skilled legal immigrant workers.
Republicans voted against the bill on the same ground that they opposed the legislation in June, maintaining that it rewarded immigrant lawbreakers. But negative votes also came from Republicans and some Democrats who were reluctant to reopen the bitterly divisive debate over immigration for what they called a narrow piece of legislation.
The White House had rejected Durbin's bill in a statement just before the vote, saying it should not be adopted without strong enforcement measures against illegal immigration. The administration said the bill would open a path to citizenship for such students that other immigrants, including many here legally, would not enjoy.
Durbin said he had pruned the bill to reduce its beneficiaries. To be eligible for legal status, illegal immigrant students would have had to arrive in the US before they were 16 years old, have lived there for at least five years and be under 30 on the date of passage.
Still, conservatives called the measure a "backdoor amnesty," saying it could benefit more than 1 million illegal immigrants.
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