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Immigration Bill Does Not Pass Senate


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Anthony Brooks.


I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, the American bald eagle, still bald but no longer endangered.

BROOKS: But first, congressional efforts to overhaul the country's immigration laws are, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Unidentified Man: On this vote the yeas are 46, the neighs are 53. Three-fifths of the senators, duly chosen and sworn, not having voted in the affirmative, the motion is not agreed to.

BROOKS: Sixty yeas were needed. This is a major defeat for President Bush, who was scrambling earlier in the day making phone calls to senators to try to save the legislation. The measure would have provided a way for millions of illegal immigrants to become citizens and it would have tightened border security. Joining me now is NPR's Jennifer Ludden.

And Jennifer, where was the opposition to this bill?

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Anthony, it was everywhere, all over the map, and for completely different reasons. I mean, you had both political parties divided. A lot of the opposition, much of it, was from the Republican Party. But you also had division in the Democratic Party. Some newly elected Democratic senators from more conservative areas came out against it. Unions were divided, some of them deeply opposed to temporary guest-worker program. And even some immigrant advocacy groups split.

I mean, some felt that almost anything will be better than the tumultuous status quo, while others were furiously sending e-mails saying that, you know, the penalties in the bill for illegal immigrants just made it too harsh.

BROOKS: Well, this has been a long and painful death dance. What happens now?

LUDDEN: I think action is just going to spring back to states and localities, where, frankly, it's been happening for several years already. And in this vacuum of federal action we have seen states and localities trying to address an issue that the courts have said really belongs with the federal government.

This year there are 1,100 bills about immigration in state legislatures across the county.


LUDDEN: Twice what it was last year, and it was big then. Last year, they passed bills in 34 states. So it shows the extent of the problem. A lot of the bills, you know, they try to impose harsher penalties on businesses who hire illegal immigrants, or give law enforcement more leeway to detain them, or make it harder for the undocumented to qualify for various social services. So I think this trend is going to continue.

The impact is hard to assess so far because a lot of these bills haven't taken effect yet. One person I spoke with said a lot of them really kind of duplicate what federal law already says. So we'll see what impact they have.

BROOKS: Jennifer, you mentioned that cities are also trying to crackdown on immigration. What are they trying to do? Give us some examples.

LUDDEN: Well, dozens of them have passed or considered laws. And generally, they impose penalties on businesses who hire illegal immigrants or fine landlords who rent to them. But none of these have taken effect because human -civil rights groups have jumped in and challenged them systematically. Again, saying it's a federal issue and that the laws proposed are unconstitutional.

Now, an ordinance in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, has become a bellwether and a model. It went on trial earlier this spring, and we're still waiting for the judge to rule. My layperson's bet was that he was waiting to see what Congress would do. But in any case, whatever he decides, people on both sides expect this to be appealed, so we could be on hold a while there to see whether cities are deemed to have the right to act in immigration.

BROOKS: And what about those who worked as hard as they did to oppose this Senate bill? They must be pretty happy.

LUDDEN: Right. But again opponents came from all sides, so presumably they're happy for completely different reasons. One irony here is that some of the loudest opponents who labeled this bill as an amnesty have gotten what they wanted - it's failed. But the upshot, as some see it, is a continued de facto amnesty, because now a whole slew of enforcement measures that were in the bill are not going to be passed.

And some will probably try to address this piecemeal, but I don't know if that's going to succeed. Meanwhile, you do have the immigration agency continuing its own crackdown. In recent years, we've really seen it step up workplace raids and deportations. Frankly, it's still a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of undocumented here.

But some argue, if you can just make it difficult enough to be here, then businesses on their own will stop hiring immigrants - illegal immigrants, or immigrants will decide not to come.

I think that's probably happening on a small scale, but I'm not sure it's going to be enough to make a real sea change in the way things are.

BROOKS: Okay, Jennifer. Thanks very much for talking to us today.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

BROOKS: That's NPR's Jennifer Ludden talking about the death of the immigration bill in Congress today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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