The U.S. Senate rejected a Republican border-security proposal as senators said that bipartisan negotiators agreed to an alternative way to strengthen those provisions in immigration legislation.
By a 54-43 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment from Texas Senator John Cornyn that would require the government to show it is apprehending 90 percent of the people illegally crossing the border from Mexico before undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. could gain permanent legal residency. Democrats and some Republicans said Cornyn’s plan would have scuttled bipartisan support for the legislation.
Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, urged lawmakers to oppose the amendment, saying “it imposes new, unrealistic” benchmarks for border security that would have to be reached before undocumented immigrants could become citizens.
Before the vote, Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and John Hoeven of North Dakota said a group of bipartisan negotiators reached an agreement on a compromise to enhance border security in the bill.
The plan would double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol by adding 20,000 agents and would require 700 miles of fencing at the U.S.-Mexico border, said two Senate aides, who sought anonymity to describe the private talks. It also would deploy unmanned aerial drones and other added resources at the border.
“What we’re trying to do is put in place measures that to any reasonable person would be an overwhelming effort to secure our border, short of shooting everyone who comes across the border.” South Carlina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican co- sponsor of the bill, said yesterday. “If we pull it off, it will be the most dramatic effort I’ve seen since I’ve been in Congress to secure the border.”
One Senate aide said today’s bipartisan proposal would require independent certification that the additional border- security resources were in place before undocumented immigrants could receive permanent legal status.
All employers would have to be using an E-verify system to check workers’ legal status, and a visa entry and exit system would have to be in place at all airports and seaports, the aide said. The aide didn’t describe how the independent certification would work.
Cornyn said today on the Senate floor that he was reserving judgment on the compromise proposal until he could review the details. Still, he said doubling the number of border security agents would improve the bill.
“That’s a substantial movement in terms of boots on the ground,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the language that’s being proposed.”
The Senate bill, S. 744, would allow undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency, known as a green card, when the government has a “substantially operational” plan for achieving a 90 percent apprehension rate at the U.S. border.
Graham and McCain, also a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, opposed Cornyn’s proposal and have been negotiating the alternative with Democrats and with Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and Hoeven.
Their efforts got a boost today when Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, praised the new border-security proposal and said he would be prepared to vote for the broader immigration plan if it is adopted. He was one of 15 senators, all Republicans, who voted June 11 against taking up the bill.
“This bipartisan compromise will restore the people’s trust in our ability to control the border and bring 525,000 people in Illinois out of the shadows,” Kirk said in a statement.
“My sense is we have the best chance we’ve ever had to pass meaningful reform,” Corker said today in an interview on MSNBC, adding, “Our efforts are making something happen.’
Beyond the border-control debate, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah is insisting on changes to the conditions under which undocumented immigrants could become U.S. citizens as the price for his support of the bill. Hatch has proposed prohibiting non-citizens who gain legal status from obtaining welfare benefits and requiring immigrants to pay back taxes to qualify for temporary legal status.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated June 18 that the Senate bill would reduce the federal budget deficit by about $175 billion over a decade and by $700 billion during the second 10 years after implementation. It said increased tax revenue from new U.S. residents would outpace growth in the demand for government services.
Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the measure’s sponsors, have said they won’t support the Senate bill without more stringent border control.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio met yesterday with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Afterward, the group’s chairman, Texas Democrat Ruben Hinojosa, said ‘‘we will find a solution” to rewriting the federal law.
Another member of the caucus, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, said, “We made strong headway towards resolving and fixing our broken immigration system.” Gutierrez, a Democrat, is a member of a bipartisan House group that plans to introduce a comprehensive immigration bill as soon as next week.
Boehner earlier this week called the Senate bill’s border- control provisions “laughable,” echoing other House Republicans’ stance that the measures should be strengthened. He said he won’t bring an immigration proposal to a vote unless it has the support of most Republicans in his chamber.
The Senate voted 61-37 yesterday against a proposal by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul that would have allowed the citizenship path to begin only after a vote by Congress certifying that the U.S. border had been secured. It would have required the completion of border fencing within five years.
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