The bill, S.1384, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, failed to attract the necessary 60 votes needed to end debate and go to an up or down vote in the Senate.
The failure of the bill to pass muster was a bitter blow to reform campaigners and the worst kind of news for thousands of undocumented Irish who have been counting on Washington to provide relief from lives lived in the shadows.
The Senate impasse does not, however, mean that S.1384 is history and, even before the dust had settled, Senate sponsors such as Edward Kennedy were working to bring it back for another try.
“This matter is on life support, but it is not dead,” said Republican senator Arlen Specter, one of his party’s leading proponents of reform.
Specter’s view was echoed by others.
“This bill is not dead”, Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform vice chairman Ciaran Staunton told ILIR members at a fundraising even in Queens two day’s after the Senate failure.
“We’re going to Washington this week and thanks to your fundraising efforts tonight, we’ll keep going to Washington until we legalize the Irish,” Staunton said.
Also covering distance in support of the bill’s revival was President Bush who made his way to Capitol Hill Tuesday to press his case with Republican senators for a reform package that attracted both bipartisan support, but also virulent criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Bush was in Europe when the Senate baulked.
“I believe we can get an immigration bill. Now, it’s going to require leadership from the Democrat leaders in the Senate, and it’s going to require me to stay engaged and work with Republicans who want a bill. I believe we can get it done,” Bush told reporters before flying back to Washington.
In addition to Bush’s meting with GOP lawmakers, bill backers from both parties huddled Monday and Tuesday with the intent of getting the S.1384 back on the rails.
“We’re working on a way to move it forward. It’s a challenge but we’re pretty optimistic,” said Laura Capps, a spokeswoman for Senator Kennedy.
Democrats have separately indicated to Republicans that they will revive the stalled bill if GOP senators agree to a time limit for debate and also a limit on the number of amendments to the measure.
As many as 100 amendments from members of both parties were circling around S.1384 at the beginning of last week, and what became ever clearer as days passed was that the eventual form of the bill had the potential to be quite unlike what was first presented to the Senate by the bipartisan sponsors of the legislation back in mid-May.
The bill’s progress came to its grinding halt when two cloture votes called by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid failed to attract the required 60 votes that would have curtailed debate and forced a final vote.
In the second vote the tally was 50 against cloture, 45 for it.
The amendments were aimed at a measure that weighs in at almost 400 pages and includes provisions for greater border security, a path to legalization for the undocumented and illegal, a temporary worker program and revised rules for how green cards are distributed in the future.
The major parts of the bill were targeted by critics from both parties. Some Republicans, for example, had issues with legalization for illegals, labeling it amnesty. Some Democrats had problems with the temporary worker program.
The standoff over immigration reform is not confined to the Senate. The House of Representatives, which has its own bill waiting in the wings is also sharply divided.
And this contrasting view of the future of immigration law found no greater contrast in the aftermath of the Senate failure than in statements by two members of the House Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs.
“I am deeply disappointed that the Senate was unable to reach agreement on comprehensive immigration reform tonight. This is an unfortunate setback. However, the battle to find a common sense solution is far from over. The safety and security of our nation is at stake, and I will continue to work with my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, to enact much-needed reforms,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, a co-sponsor of the House bill, known as the STRIVE Act.
“Last night’s defeat of the Senate Amnesty bill was a victory for Americans and for the rule of law. Now it is essential for the federal government, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, to enforce current laws and secure our borders once and for all. This includes completing the entire 700 mile border fence and going after companies and individuals who hire illegal immigrants,” said Rep. Peter King, his party’s ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee.
In Ireland, meanwhile, cross party disappointment greeted the Senate stall.
Foreign minister Dermot Ahern expressed his own disappointment but added that he was encouraged that the leadership of both parties in the Senate had indicated that they would bring the legislation back up for consideration.
“I have asked our embassy in Washington to provide a full assessment of the situation so that we can best review how our efforts can be brought forward to achieve an acceptable solution to the difficulties faced by the undocumented Irish in the U.S,” Ahern said.