Leahy, Sanders split immigration votes

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(Host) Vermont’s two Senators split their votes on the defeated immigration bill. As Jodi Breisler reports from Capitol Hill, they see the bill’s failure through very different perspectives.

(Breisler) As a Senate leader, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy quietly supported the comprehensive immigration reform. He says it’s the Republicans’ fault the bill failed.

(Leahy) “Apparently the Republicans made a decision they wanted to kill it. That surprised me, because their own President was pushing it, but they decided they were against it and they weren’t going to allow it to go through.”

(Breisler) Only twelve Republicans supported the bill. Yet fifteen Democrats voted against the key cloture procedure that would have moved the legislation forward. Democratic leadership like Leahy say some might have changed their minds if their votes would’ve put the bill over the top. Leahy says Republican Senators had a strategic plan to make sure that wouldn’t happen.

(Leahy) “They could’ve gone for it if they want, but it became very, very clear and a number of them said this privately- they intend to kill it one way or the other.”

(Breisler) Independent Senator Bernie Sanders didn’t focus on the politics behind the bill. He was too busy working against it for policy reasons.Sanders voted no primarily because of the included guest worker programs.

(Sanders) “At a time when poverty is increasing, when you got tens of thousands of people in my state working for below ten dollars an hour, how do I say yeah- it’s a good idea to bring more and more people in this country who’ll work for 7 bucks and hour, 7.50- that just doesn’t make sense.”

(Breisler) Sanders did support other portions of the bill like employer sanctions and a pathway to legalization for the estimate 12 million undocumented immigrants.

(Sanders) “I think you gotta tell employers who are intentionally hiring illegal immigrants that they can’t continue to do that and they’re going to be fined. And I happen to believe you need to have a path toward citizenship. I think when you have 12 million people in this country-they’re not going to be sent out of this country- that’s not what America’s gonna do, It’s not what America should do.”

(Breisler) U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez was sent by the President to get immigration reform passed. Gutierrez says the bill would have created worker programs that would give the U.S. a competitive edge over other developing nations.

(Gutierrez) “That we could do something that would give us an advantage- not just for five years, but for the next 20, 50 years. We weren’t able to do it this time, but I can tell you that it’s not going away.”

(Breisler) Sanders agrees the need is there, but says this bill wasn’t going to solve it.

(Sanders) “Selective, intelligent guest worker program filling real needs, yes. But the kind of general program incorporated in this bill doesn’t make sense to me.”

(Breisler) The bill’s supporters say it is highly unlikely any immigration reform will be enacted before the 2008 elections.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Jodi Breisler on Capitol Hill.

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