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Senate votes to reduce guest workers allowed in U.S.

Story Highlights

• 74-24 Senate vote means guest workers allowed will be cut in half
• 200,000 guest workers will be allowed, according to measure
• Immigration law would offer 12 million illegal immigrants chance at citizenship
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to cut in half the number of guest workers that would be allowed into the United States under a controversial immigration overhaul backed by the White House.

The 74-24 vote was the first major change to a "grand bargain" unveiled last week and sent to the Senate floor for debate on Monday.

Senators voted to reduce the number of guest workers that would be allowed into the country from 400,000 to 200,000. (Watch precedents for top Republican's censored take on bill Video)

Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the leading advocate of the amendment, said 200,000 guest workers would be "plenty."

"This is an unproven, untested, brand-new program," he said. "We need to see how it's working. We need to see the impact that it's having on other wage rates in this country."

But Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said the 400,000 figure was chosen as a result of "very careful analysis and consideration."

"We had hearings in the Judiciary Committee where prominent economists stepped forward to testify about the importance of immigrant help," Specter said. "We have an economy that relies on immigrants for hospitals, for hotels, for farms, for landscapers and many lines."

The immigration bill is the result of a deal struck after nearly three months of bipartisan talks and endorsed by the White House last week.

It would offer the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now in the United States a path to citizenship, boost border controls and establish a guest-worker program that would grant workers a two-year residency.

Conservative critics have blasted it as "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, while liberals have raised concerns that the guest-worker program would create a permanent underclass.

Bingaman's amendment was the second of two Democratic proposals aimed at drastically altering the bipartisan "grand compromise."

The first, which would have eliminated the guest worker program, was voted down Tuesday.



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