WASHINGTON – The Senate turned back an early attack on a broad bipartisan immigration overhaul Tuesday, keeping alive a temporary worker provision that could bring in as many as 600,000 foreign laborers each year.
Senators voted 64-31 to reject a proposal offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and supported by some labor unions to strike the program, which is one of the measure’s key elements.
The vote was the first big test for the improbable coalition that wrote the measure with White House officials, and is now struggling to keep the fragile deal from unraveling under pressure from across the political spectrum.
The bill still faces myriad assaults, including further Democratic attempts to limit or alter the temporary worker program, which would bring in foreign employees on two-year visas. A proposal by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to slash the number of annual visas available for temporary workers to 200,000 could come up as early as today. A similar amendment passed the Senate last year by an overwhelming margin.
The immigration measure would also toughen border security, give quick legal status to the estimated 12 million immigrants in the country unlawfully and create a new workplace verification system to bar undocumented workers from getting jobs.
It would create a point system for future immigration applicants that would place less emphasis on family connections and more on education and skills in demand by U.S. businesses.
Republicans were considering efforts to strengthen the bill’s security measures and make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get on the path to citizenship. Democrats were eyeing changes that would ensure more visas would be available for family members of permanent residents and U.S. citizens.
Conservatives, liberals and centrists who worked out the White House-backed deal are struggling to keep the bill intact while giving Democrats and Republicans who harbor grave concerns about it opportunities to make revisions.
Coalition members meet each day to decide which proposed changes are deal-breakers to what they call their “grand bargain.” Dorgan’s was considered one such poison pill.