Co-sponsors of the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan immigration proposal are considering ways to strengthen border-security provisions in an effort to draw Republican support.
New York Democrat Charles Schumer and Arizona Republican John McCain, two of the bipartisan group of eight senators that wrote the bill, said members were discussing possible changes among themselves and with other senators.
“We have to get a certain number of people who would agree to a plan that we could achieve 90 percent effective control of the border,” McCain told reporters yesterday. “We think it’s possible, but I’m not predicting.”
The Senate bill’s co-sponsors are seeking an alternative to a proposal by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber’s minority whip. Cornyn wants the government to certify that it is catching 90 percent of the people illegally crossing the U.S. border from Mexico before undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. could gain permanent legal residency.
The bill’s authors oppose Cornyn’s proposal, saying it would create an unreasonable hurdle that could impede the measure’s path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants. The bill seeks to balance the citizenship path, sought by Democrats, with Republicans’ goal of tighter border security.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other advocates of the immigration legislation have called Cornyn’s proposal a “poison pill.”
Schumer said the measure’s authors met June 12 and decided there were enough calls to enhance the border-security provisions that the group should try to construct an alternative. Advocates of such a move say it may make the legislation more acceptable to the Republican-controlled House.
“We just want to make sure that it doesn’t forsake our principles, which is that there has to be an achievable, specific trigger,” Schumer said. “We don’t want any future president, future Senate, future House to use the trigger as a way to block the path to citizenship.”
The full Senate began considering the immigration bill this week and defeated a proposed amendment yesterday. Senate Democrats are trying to pass the proposal by July 4, and dozens of amendments have been filed.
Republicans including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a co-sponsor of the bill, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have said its border-security elements must be strengthened to win their votes. Republicans are concerned that without improved border control, the legislation would spur a wave of illegal immigration similar to one that followed the last major revision in 1986.
“I am not going to get into details, but many of our colleagues think there should be some more on border security,” Schumer said. “We’re certainly open to that.”
McCain said the talks were “still in the conversation stages” and that Cornyn wasn’t involved.
Asked whether he saw a middle ground on his proposal, Cornyn said, “I don’t yet, but I’m all ears.”
President Barack Obama met yesterday at the White House with Democratic senators to discuss immigration. Those attending the meeting were the bill’s four Democratic authors -- Schumer, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado -- and Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
The Senate defeated a Republican amendment to prohibit undocumented immigrants from gaining legal status until the Department of Homeland Security could show it had “effective control” of the borders for six months.
The measure, offered by Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, was rejected on a 57-43 vote.
The amendment “will do what the authors of the bill say they want to do: Secure the border,” Grassley said. “As we read the details of the bill, it’s clear that the approach taken is legalize first, enforce later.”
The Senate bill would allow undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria to apply for legal status six months after it is enacted, and after the Department of Homeland Security submits plans for securing the border.
Grassley’s amendment would have barred anyone from obtaining that status until the department certified the borders had been secured for six months.
“My amendment ensures the border is secure before one person gets legal status,” Grassley said.
The eight senators who drafted the bill, including Republicans McCain, Rubio, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voted against the amendment. McConnell and Democratic Senator Mark Pryor, who is seeking re-election next year in Republican-leaning Arkansas, were among those who supported it.
Grassley’s amendment “would undo the entire theme and structure of the immigration bill,” Schumer said. “It will take years and years until the border is secure.”
A bipartisan House negotiating group is working on an immigration proposal and plans to present it later this month. Separately, the House Judiciary Committee is considering measures to address aspects of immigration law, including the flow of agricultural and high-skilled workers.
House Republicans are scheduled to meet July 10 to discuss immigration, according to an e-mail sent yesterday to lawmakers.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said he advised fellow Republicans in the House yesterday to try to switch the debate from how to deal with undocumented immigrants and toward the potential of legal immigration to fuel economic growth.
Bush, promoting his book “Immigration Wars” at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, said he saw a “pretty good chance” that the bipartisan effort will yield a new immigration law.
He said he favored the Senate bill’s 13-year process for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship, “where you have to learn English, you have to pay a fine, you cannot access federal government transfer payments.”
“That satisfies the concerns of having the right balance between respect for the rule of law and embracing our immigrant heritage,” Bush said.