Supporters of a guest worker program that would let illegal immigrants stay in the United States said Tuesday they don’t have enough Senate votes to overcome objections from conservatives who oppose the measure on grounds it amounts to amnesty.
As negotiators worked on a compromise to let those who have been here longest remain, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said a majority in the 100-member Senate support his and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s proposal to provide green cards to illegal immigrants after they’ve worked in the U.S. for six years.
But it takes 60 senators to overcome opponents’ parliamentary tactics, and McCain said he doesn’t have that many.
More than 11 million illegal immigrants are believed to be in the U.S., and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., said he and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., are pushing a “fallback” plan that would put those who have been here the longest on a track toward citizenship but treat more recent arrivals differently. A similar approach was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week but it was revived Monday night during a meeting in Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office.
About 30 Republican senators huddled for more than an hour Tuesday but no consensus emerged. President Bush has championed a program that would give illegal immigrants a legal status to work in the U.S. but has not specified whether they should have to leave the country at some point.