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Immigration overhaul bill dies in Senate

Sweeping proposal backed by Bush administration would have rewritten green card laws and created massive government database to verify all U.S. employees.

A massive immigration bill that would have created a new government database for employee verification and rewritten green card laws died late Thursday in the U.S. Senate.

The proposal, which represented the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration laws in a generation and was backed by President Bush, unexpectedly stalled on a procedural vote in the Senate of 45 to 50. At least 60 votes were needed.

At 628 pages, at least in its later forms (PDF), the bill was unusually convoluted and ignited an inferno of opposition from conservatives who said the new "Z" visa for illegal aliens would amount to an unacceptable form of amnesty.

Technology firms, too, fretted that the green card overhaul would chip away at the predictability of the current process for recruiting and hiring foreigners and leave too much control over the talent-screening process in the government's hands.

An opinion article by immigration attorney Martin Lawler in Thursday's Wall Street Journal calculated that the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Reform Act would have allowed Mexican horse groomers to obtain permanent residency--but blocked green card applications from actor Michael J. Fox, journalist Peter Jennings and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, all immigrants.

Another flashpoint for criticism was the proposed creation of the Employment Eligibility Verification System, which would have created new databases that all employers would have to use to investigate the immigration status of current and future employees or face stiff penalties.

Republican-led opposition proved fatal to the shaky alliance between the president and the Democratic Senate leadership, which had hoped that a hard-fought compromise would survive a series of procedural votes this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, however, predicted the measure would eventually resurface on Capitol Hill.