Senators Reject Most Border Changes to Immigration Plan

A Senate panel rejected Republicans’ broadest attempts to add stricter border-security rules to a proposed immigration law, while accepting a change seeking a 90 percent apprehension rate along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a preview of the coming Senate floor fight over the immigration bill, Democrats who control the Senate Judiciary Committee demonstrated yesterday that they’re open to some Republican attempts to stiffen the bill’s border-security provisions. They rejected more significant revisions.

“Be constructive. We are open to change,” New York Senator Charles Schumer, one of eight senators who authored the bipartisan proposal, said as the panel began considering amendments. “But don’t make an effort to kill a bill that is the best hope for immigration reform, I believe, that we’ve had in this country.”

The plan seeks to balance Democrats’ proposed path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. with enough border-security improvements to satisfy Republicans.

The Republican Party is trying to reconnect with Hispanics after President Barack Obama won 71 percent of that group’s votes in the November election.

The bill, S. 744, was proposed by four Senate Republicans and four Democrats. The two Republicans in that group who also serve on the Judiciary Committee -- Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona -- voted against several of the broader amendments offered by fellow party members.

300 Amendments

The Judiciary panel yesterday considered what border-security goals must be met before the government would open a path to citizenship. Committee members have filed about 300 proposed amendments, and the panel will continue work on the bill May 14.

Among the rejected amendments was one from Texas Republican Ted Cruz to replace all of the measure’s border-security rules.

“The bill has grave problems when it comes to border security,” Cruz said. He said he would insist on putting “real teeth in the border security elements.”

Cruz’s proposal, rejected 5-13, would have tripled the number of Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border and quadrupled surveillance equipment such as cameras and drones before any prospective citizen could be granted “registered provisional immigrant” status.

The proposal “doesn’t really do the job and in fact would waste money,” said Schumer, a Democrat.

U.S.-Mexico Border

Senators adopted an amendment from Iowa Senator Charles Grassley to require that the Department of Homeland Security achieve a 90 percent apprehension rate along the full U.S.- Mexico border before undocumented immigrants can begin qualifying for eventual citizenship. The bill initially imposed that requirement only for high-risk areas of the border.

By a vote of 6-12, panel members defeated a more expansive amendment from Grassley that would have barred prospective citizens from receiving “registered provisional immigrant” status until the U.S. maintained “effective control of the borders” for at least six months.

“The triggers in the bill that kick off legalization are weak,” said Grassley, the Judiciary panel’s top Republican.

Also by a vote of 6-12, senators defeated a proposal from Utah Republican Mike Lee that would have required the House and Senate to vote to certify that border security benchmarks had been met before undocumented immigrants could start on the citizenship path or become legal permanent residents.

“This gives us the final say in whether or not those triggers have been met,” Lee said.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, opposed the measure, saying it was impractical “to wait for Congress to act.”

Fence Proposal

The committee voted 6-12 to reject a proposal, offered by Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, to build 700 miles of new double-layer fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Cruz said he will continue to press an amendment to eliminate the citizenship path for those already in the U.S. He said the bill would “be voted down in the U.S. House of Representatives” if it contained the path to citizenship.

The fate of an immigration measure is uncertain in the House, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said last month that he would proceed with a series of individual bills instead of a comprehensive plan.

Sessions said the “step-by-step approach” the House is pursuing is a better way of dealing with the issue than the comprehensive Senate plan.

Speaker Boehner

Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters that the House “is going to work its will on immigration reform.”

“This is an issue that has been around far too long, and needs to be dealt with,” Boehner said. “I intend to see that it’s dealt with.”

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said there is a 70 percent chance that Congress will revise immigration law because the results of the 2012 election “focused the Republican Party, particularly the presidential wing” on the need to address a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

The Judiciary panel adopted about two dozen other amendments, including some offered by Republicans. Among them were proposals to prohibit a land border-crossing fee and to add certain forms of human trafficking to the violent crimes that must be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

“So far, so good,” said Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, adding that it was “going to go on awhile” before the committee finishes work on the bill because “we are going to have a lot of amendments.”

Still “serious improvements are needed,” Cruz said. “There need to be real steps to secure the border, which the current bill does not have.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at khunter9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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