Immigration Bill Heads to Senate Floor

With Washington immersed in and distracted by a trio of scandals, the giant immigration reform bill is headed to the Senate floor after five days of amendments in the Judiciary Committee.

The vote was 13-5, with Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Orrin Hatch of Utah joining the 10 Democrats on the committee to pass the bill.

GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama voted against it.

The original 844-page bill from the Group of Eight emerges from committee molded by a bevy of amendments, including 48 from Republicans that were adopted.

Gang of Eight member Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), though, said he was "pleased to see that the original foundation of our legislation was not weakened."

"Our carefully crafted compromise withstood a tough series of poison pill amendments, and its passage out of the Judiciary Committee brings us a step closer to final passage by the senate," said Menendez, who does not sit on the committee. "Members from the entire political spectrum continue to support the bipartisan proposal put forth; this is the right approach at the right time. I will continue to do everything I can to push this bill across the finish line, and I look forward to a thoughtful and fair debate in the senate floor.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), also a member of the original negotiating group but not on the committee that marked up his bill, said he thought the committee "made real improvements to the bill."

“The amended bill that heads to the Senate floor would make significant progress to secure our borders, make E-Verify mandatory for the first time in American history, effectively crack down on immigrants who overstay visas, and modernize the legal immigration system to meet America’s 21st century economic needs for both highly skilled talent and guest workers to fill labor shortages," Rubio said.

However, he added, the reform bill won't be successful "unless we can earn the confidence of the American people that we are solving our immigration problems once and for all."

"As evidenced by the statements of many of my colleagues who voted against the bill in committee today, the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum are prepared to give millions of people living here today illegally the opportunity to earn legal status and, potentially, permanent residence and citizenship - but only if they pay fines, pass background checks, don’t receive federal benefits and wait in line behind everybody who followed the rules," Rubio said. "And only if we secure the border and take steps that ensure that we will never again have another wave of illegal immigration."

Cornyn said he felt the markup made some improvements, but ultimately the legislation fell short of what was needed to get his vote.

“I was disappointed the Committee rejected an amendment I offered that would’ve required real border security results. Another promise from Washington, D.C., to secure the border won’t cut it," he said. “I am deeply concerned about this and other flaws in the current proposal. I want the system to work for everyone, and I am hopeful that common sense will eventually lead to common ground.” 

Sessions, whose opposition to the legislation was especially vocal during the markup, highlighted a letter just released by a coalition of conservative activists urging lawmakers to vote against the bill and saying "no matter how well-intentioned, the Schumer-Rubio bill suffers from fundamental design flaws that make it unsalvageable."

"Many of us support various parts of the legislation, but the overall package is so unsatisfactory that the Senate would do better to start over from scratch," says the letter, which also urges senators to vote against cloture and keep the bill from coming up for a vote. Signatories include PJ Media's Allen West, Victor Davis Hanson and Andrew McCarthy.

"The coalition letter is an important and decisive moment in this debate, reflecting deep, broad and principled conservative opposition," Sessions said. "They note, correctly, that the Gang of Eight legislation is like Obamacare—a large, unwieldy bill filled with broken promises and special interest giveaways. The letter makes crucial points about how the Gang of Eight legislation will pull down Americans’ wages, destroy American jobs and erode the constitutional rule of law as immigration officers have repeatedly warned. While the number of voices supporting the Gang of Eight legislation shrinks, the number of Americans speaking out against this proposal continues to grow."