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Sen. Edward Kennedy speaks about immigration legislation while Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (left) listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill.
Senate opponents have succeeded in stopping a bill that would give legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, making it unlikely that the issue will be decided until after the 2008 elections.
The bill's supporters fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to limit debate and clear the way for final passage of the measure, which had critics in both parties.
Conservatives said it gave amnesty to illegal immigrants, while Democrats said fees associated with obtaining visas were too high and decried a provision lessening the weight given to family ties.
Senators in both parties said the issue is so volatile that Congress is highly unlikely to revisit it this fall or next year, when the presidential election will be a key focus of both parties.
A similar effort collapsed in Congress last year, prompting the House to wait on Senate action before tackling the issue again.
The bill's defeat was a stinging rebuke for President Bush, who personally worked with Congressional leaders to obtain their support. The president has acknowledged that the compromise proposal was not perfect, but he said it was necessary to secure the borders and curb illegal immigration.
In a brief statement, the president told reporters he was "disappointed" by the vote.
Looking ahead to the next legislative session, Bush said Congress "needs to prove to the American people" that it can work together for the common good.
Thursday's vote was a victory for Republican conservatives, who strongly criticized the bill's provisions that would have established pathways to lawful status for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. They were aided by talk radio and TV hosts who repeatedly attacked the bill and urged listeners to flood Congress with calls, faxes and e-mails.
The bill would have toughened border security and instituted a new system for weeding out illegal immigrants from workplaces. It would have created a new guest worker program and would have allowed millions of illegal immigrants to obtain legal status if they briefly returned home.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press