New York Times
May 17, 2006
WASHINGTON, May 17— The Senate voted overwhelmingly today to add hundreds of miles of fencing along the border between the United States and Mexico and to bar illegal immigrants convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors from remaining in the United States and having a chance at eventual citizenship.
The measure calling for an additional 370 miles of fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers carried by 83 to 16. Since the House of Representatives has already approved some 700 miles of additional fencing, it is likely that whatever immigration legislation emerges from the full Congress will provide for extra barriers.
The Senate fence measure was embodied in an amendment offered by Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who borrowed from the poet Robert Frost. "Good fences make good neighbors," he said. "Fences don't make bad neighbors."
Some stretches of the 2,000-mile border are already marked by fencing, most notably a 14-mile segment dividing San Diego from Tijuana. The Senate measure calls for triple-layered fencing but does not specify a location.
No Republican voted against the fence measure, which attracted wide support from Democrats. The 15 Democrats who voted against it (as did the independent James Jeffords of Vermont) were Daniel Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye, both of Hawaii; Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico; Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both of Washington; Christopher Dodd and Joseph I. Lieberman, both of Connecticut; Richard J. Durbin and Barack Obama, both of Illinois; Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin; Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts; Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both of New Jersey; Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and Paul Sarbanes of Maryland.
Earlier, the Senate voted 99 to 0, on an amendment offered by Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, both Republicans, to deny citizenship chances to those illegals guilty of a felony or three misdemeanors. But this afternoon, the Senate rejected by 66 to 33 an amendment offered by Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, that would have denied citizenship chances to illegal immigrants who have been in the United States more than two years.
Whatever emerges from the Senate will have to be reconciled with a House bill that emphasizes border security rather than chances at citizenship, and those negotiations are sure to be hard-fought. But at least for the moment, the votes on the the Cornyn-Kyl and Sessions amendments added some momentum to the Senate's efforts to agree on a bill.
Mr. Cornyn and Mr. Kyl have been among the leading critics of the Senate legislation now under debate. Their amendment gained unanimous support after it was softened somewhat, providing exceptions for hardship cases and those unaware that deportation orders had been issued against them. (Only Senator John D. Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, did not vote today.)
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and a leading proponent of immigration legislation, called the vote on the Cornyn-Kyl amendment "another major leap forward for comprehensive immigration reform."
"This measure, as it now stands, will treat individuals fairly by welcoming those who should be welcomed and excluding those who should be excluded," Mr. Kennedy said.
President Bush is pushing ahead with his effort to bring Republicans in the House and the Senate together. But he is running into renewed resistance from conservatives who said they were not swayed by the case he made Monday to give many illegal workers a chance to become citizens.
Today, Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's strategist, met at the Capitol with assembled House Republicans, where he received a mixed reception.
On Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney went on Rush Limbaugh's syndicated radio program to try to mollify conservatives. Mr. Bush's plan combines a pledge of enhanced border security, backed by the deployment of up to 6,000 National Guard troops, with the creation of a temporary guest worker program and an opportunity for illegal immigrants who meet certain standards to gain legal status.
Mr. Bush also spoke by telephone on Tuesday with the House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, and the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, to press his argument, while other administration officials reached out to other lawmakers.
White House officials said they expected to work for months to build public support and win the votes on Capitol Hill to get a bill through the Senate and then to build a compromise with the House. The legislation that the House has passed emphasizes border security and makes it a felony to be in the United States illegally.
Mr. Bush plans to travel to Arizona on Thursday to speak again about the issue, which he has now made a test of his political authority and one of the defining domestic initiatives of his second term. But a day after Mr. Bush delivered a nationally televised address on the issue from the Oval Office, there was little immediate evidence that he had bridged the deep divide in his own party or rallied public opinion sufficiently to break the impasse.
The House majority leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, gave Mr. Bush credit for making a public effort on immigration and said he believed a final deal was possible. But, he said, "I don't underestimate the difficulty in the House and Senate coming to an agreement on this."
House conservatives said they saw little chance to reconcile the emerging Senate legislation and the House bill.
"The emphasis that he placed on the amnesty provision will not fly, especially in the House," said Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, who is one of the leaders of efforts to stop illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America. Mr. Tancredo and other Republicans said their party was already facing a difficult midterm election. They said the party would suffer if the president successfully advanced his proposal, which they said diverged with public opinion and carried the risk of alienating much of the Republican base.
"It is a nonstarter with the American people, and the Republican Party will pay the price at the polls," said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California.
Mr. Rohrabacher said that some fellow conservatives had found the president's address condescending and that the remarks "hinted at maliciousness on the part of those who are adamant that illegal immigration is bad for the country."
White House officials said they believed views would soften. "The issue is not going to thaw overnight with those with fairly entrenched positions," said Dan Bartlett, the White House counselor.