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Senators of Both Parties Seek Changes to Immigration Bill

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin
Illinois Senator Richard Durbin said, “We’ve got to keep the strength of this core agreement in place.” Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A Republican senator wants to limit the number of immigrants granted permanent U.S. residency, while a Democratic senator is seeking protection for same-sex couples as part of legislation to revise immigration laws.

A sampling of amendments that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee plan to offer demonstrates the political push-and-pull that lies ahead when the panel is scheduled to begin work on the bipartisan immigration plan tomorrow.

“We want everyone as a ‘yes,’ but I hope that we don’t end up adopting amendments in the vain belief that picking up one more senator on one side or the other will pass the bill and lose our basic agreement,” said Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat and a co-author of the bill. “We’ve got to keep the strength of this core agreement in place.”

During the next several weeks, the panel will choose from among hundreds of amendments in a preview of the coming floor debate over the attempt to enact the most significant revision of U.S. immigration law in almost three decades.

The bill’s supporters will seek to make changes that build support for the proposal while holding off amendments that erode the number of backers.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican who is among the chamber’s most vocal opponents of the bill, is proposing capping at 20 million the number of immigrants who could become permanent residents in the first decade after the bill is enacted.

Citizenship Path

Sessions contends the bill’s core component -- creating a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally -- would undercut U.S. workers and harm the economy.

In a statement, Sessions called his proposal “a starting point in scaling back the extraordinary and unacceptable” flow of immigrants that he said the legislation would create.

Sessions said he will offer 49 amendments. Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and another skeptic on immigration legislation, proposed 77 amendments. About 300 amendments have been filed, according to the Judiciary Committee website.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, had said committee members would be allowed to offer whatever amendments they chose. The four Republicans and four Democrats who crafted the plan say they will oppose amendments that would erode support for their bill.

Durbin, Graham

Four members of the bipartisan Senate group -- Democrats Durbin and Charles Schumer of New York and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona -- are members of the Judiciary Committee.

Durbin wouldn’t say whether he would vote for Leahy’s amendment that would treat foreign nationals married to a same-sex U.S. citizen equally with those married to a citizen of the opposite sex. Still, he said he supported the substance of the proposal.

“For immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families,” Leahy said in a statement. “We must end the discrimination that gay and lesbian families face in our immigration law.”

Graham told reporters that Leahy’s proposal was was a “bad idea” that would “kill the bill.” Two other Republican members of the Senate group, Florida’s Marco Rubio and Arizona’s John McCain, have said they oppose the same-sex provision.

Public Housing

Other Democratic amendments that may draw Republican opposition include a proposal by Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to make public housing assistance available to immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has said he plans to bring the immigration bill to the floor in June after the Judiciary panel completes work on it. Reid has said he will allow a number of amendments.

Republicans plan to propose strengthening the bill’s border security provisions. Improvements to border security would be required before undocumented immigrants could begin qualifying for eventual citizenship.

Scrutiny of border security intensified after the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings. Authorities identified two brothers who legally immigrated to the U.S. from Kyrgyzstan as the suspects.

Full Replacement

Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, is proposing a full replacement of the bill’s border-security provisions. Cruz would triple the number of Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border and quadruple surveillance equipment such as cameras and drones before any prospective citizen could be granted “registered provisional immigrant” status.

Graham wants to require additional security screening of anyone seeking to become a citizen from a country that “represents a threat, or contains groups or organizations that represent a threat, to the national security of the United States.”

One of Grassley’s amendments would bar prospective citizens from receiving “registered provisional immigrant” status until the U.S. “maintained effective control of the borders” for at least six months.

Rubio said ensuring the measure won’t lead to a wave of illegal immigration -- as occurred after a 1986 immigration law was enacted -- will be crucial to gaining Republican votes.

“The vast majority of Americans, and I believe the vast majority of conservative Republicans, are prepared to support immigration reform if we can ensure that we don’t have a second wave of illegal immigration,” Rubio said. “Our goal should be to move this bill in a direction that ensures that and wins their confidence.”

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