The U.S. Senate rejected a Republican border-security proposal as lawmakers said bipartisan negotiators agreed to an alternative way to strengthen those provisions in immigration legislation.
By a 54-43 vote, the Senate defeated Texas Senator John Cornyn’s plan to require the government to show it is apprehending 90 percent of the people illegally crossing the border from Mexico before undocumented immigrants 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.
Republican senators including John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said today that bipartisan negotiators agreed on a compromise to enhance border security. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, another negotiator, called it a “breakthrough.”
“It’s a provision that addresses the concerns of many Republicans,” McCain said, adding that a “significant” number of Republicans, including all four in the bipartisan negotiating group, agreed to support the plan.
The Senate is in its second week of debate on immigration legislation that seeks to balance Democrats’ goal of a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with Republicans’ demand for stricter control of the border with Mexico. Senate Democratic leaders want to pass a bill before July 4.
The bipartisan 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 Graham, a co-sponsor of the Senate bill. The plan also would deploy unmanned aerial drones and other added resources at the border.
“It’s solved the riddle of how we deal with border security,” Schumer, a bill co-sponsor. “I think it’s a breakthrough, and I’m optimistic it can help us get a large number of votes on both sides of the aisle.”
Graham said the bipartisan proposal would require the Department of Homeland Security to certify 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 all airports and seaports would have to use a visa entry and exit system, Graham said.
“We believe all of this can be done in 10 years,” Graham told reporters. In that case, it wouldn’t delay the Senate bill’s plan to allow undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. to begin receiving permanent legal status in 10 years.
Graham said it would take several years to hire and train the new border-security agents and about five years to get E-verify fully operational.
Cornyn said today on the Senate floor that he was reserving judgment on the 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.”
Republican Senators Charles Grassley of Iowa, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Ted Cruz of Texas, David Vitter of Louisiana and Mike Lee of Utah said the compromise proposal wouldn’t do enough to ensure the border is secure.
Vitter told reporters that the compromise amendment was designed “to pass the bill, not to fix the bill.”
“I think this is an attempt to pull out of the fire a bill that has been weakening,” Sessions said.
As originally proposed, the legislation, 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.
McCain and Graham opposed Cornyn’s proposal and were negotiating the alternative with Democrats and with Republicans John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee.
“It brings on at least 15 Republicans, and I think momentum is building,” Corker said of the proposal.
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 the proposal is adopted. He was one of 15 senators, all Republicans, who voted on 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.
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 on 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 told reporters today that an immigration plan must “have the confidence of the American people that it’s done the right way.”
“That means confidence that our borders are secure, confidence that those who came here illegally are not given special treatment, confidence that hard-working taxpayers are being respected” and that both parties support the final plan, he said.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, met yesterday with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Afterward, Representative 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 has said he won’t bring an immigration proposal to a vote unless most Republicans in his chamber support it.
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