The lopsided vote in the Senate on Tuesday that sent sweeping immigration legislation to the floor for debate “should not be interpreted as a strong vote of confidence,” Sen. Jeff Sessions told Newsmax in an exclusive interview.
“People are uneasy enough about the bill to not even want to move to it,” said the Alabama Republican, who voted against the legislation. “In fact, I suspect that the supporters of the bill were disappointed in that vote. They expected a virtually unanimous vote to go forward.”
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The Senate voted 82-15 to begin debate and make amendments to the comprehensive immigration bill proposed by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators in April. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a number of amendments in May — and floor debate expected to last throughout the month.
The legislation would authorize billions of dollars in new spending for increased border security, and it would require illegal immigrants to pass multiple criminal background checks, pay ﬁnes, learn English, and pay taxes before getting in line for citizenship, among other reforms.
The Gang of Eight includes Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Marco Rubio of Florida. The Democrats are Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
The group met 24 times over three months before they introduced their sweeping 844-page bill. The amended bill now totals 1,076 pages.
Tuesday’s Senate vote came after President Barack Obama urged legislators to support the bill.
“If you genuinely believe we need to fix our broken immigration system, there's no good reason to stand in the way of this bill," Obama said at the White House. “If you're serious about actually fixing the system, then this is the vehicle to do it,” he said.
In the floor-debate vote, the 15 senators opposing the bill were all Republicans.
Twenty-eight GOP senators — including Graham and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — voted for debate but warned that the legislation would require major changes in order for them to support final passage.
All 54 Democrats supported the cloture motion.
Sessions, a Judiciary Committee member who has long opposed the Gang of Eight’s bill, called the “no” votes “very respectable.”
“Now, they’re on their heels a little bit,” he said, referring to the legislation’s sponsors. “Now that the bill’s on the floor, they’re talking a little more favorably about amendments, because things aren’t going so well.”
He referenced comments from Rubio, who said he would offer an amendment to tighten the requirement for immigrants to speak English before they can live here legally.
“The bill is so far removed from what’s been promised that it’s really not fixable, even with some amendments on the floor,” Sessions told Newsmax. “We should not move to it.”
He continued his longstanding criticism that the immigration reform measure was nothing more than an agreement between the senators and such special interests as the labor, business and technology industries.
“The bill that was produced was a ratification of a long, intensive effort by special interests to produce a bill that they liked,” he said. “They were focused intently on what benefitted them.
“Once they all signed on, the Gang of Eight was aggressively defending a bill that was put together by a group of special interests. That’s not the way legislation should be done in America.”
More specifically, Sessions called the legislation “amnesty” and said it weakened border security and did nothing to protect Americans who are trying to find work in a sluggish, slowly improving economy.
“I am well aware that when you give amnesty first, you’re very much unlikely to ever get enforcement,” he said. “That is the history of this system. This bill clearly gives the amnesty first, placing 11 million people on a guaranteed path to permanent residency and citizenship.”
Most illegal immigrants, he added, were less concerned about becoming American citizens and more interested in being legalized.
He noted the debacle created by the 1986 immigration legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan. The law granted amnesty to nearly three million illegal immigrants, yet was largely considered unsuccessful because the strict sanctions on employers were stripped out of the bill for passage.
“Citizenship is not a top priority for most of the people who are here illegally, and we should not, ever again — after 1986, and that failed amnesty — reward people who came illegally with everything we can give,” Sessions said. “And, certainly, citizenship is the highest thing you can give to somebody.
“I just don’t think we should do that — and I don’t believe it’s critically important to many people who are here illegally.”
As for the employment aspect, Sessions said: “We cannot not consider the danger that this huge increase in immigration will present to working Americans, especially when our unemployment rate is so high. Wages are down. Jobs are very hard to come by.
“This would increase substantially the number of workers coming into the country — and we’re just not creating many jobs now. It’s beyond all reason. We’re just not doing well economically right now.
“We still have a lot of people working off the books and pulling down wages,” the senator told Newsmax, “but once this bill is passed, almost immediately, every worker that is maybe working off the books will be given a Social Security Card and an authorization to work anywhere.
“They can begin immediately to compete with other workers — and it can only have the effect of diminishing wages.”
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Looking ahead, however, Sessions predicted that “the House will not pass this bill. It has zero chance — and if it’s not improved, it’s not going to pass the Senate. It’ll have to be improved a good bit.
“The American people have been hearing the promises of the bill, and the promises sound pretty good. They’re very attractive.
“But what we’re going to establish, unfortunately, is that the actual language in the bill does not fulfill those promises. Nowhere close.”
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