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Senate Immigration Debate Begins with GOP Amendment Fight

The legislation does not stand in the way of allowing those already on American soil to obtain the papers necessary to stay.

The bill further maintains that illegal immigrants who have resided in the U.S. since Dec. 13, 2011, must seek provisional legal status that allows them to work but renders them ineligible for federal benefits. They must pay a penalty, taxes and a processing fee and can only apply for permanent status after 10 years.

A new visa program for low-skilled workers would be developed and the Department of Homeland Security would be charged with coming up with a $4.5 billion plan to gain effective control of the porous southern border with Mexico.

The Cornyn amendment isn’t the only proposal expected to come up for debate that concerns immigration reform proponents. Rubio, one of the four Republican authors who has served as the face and voice of the legislation from the outset, has joined with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on an amendment that basically prohibits undocumented workers from taking advantage of the nation’s social services while they seek citizenship or some form of work visa.

The Hatch-Rubio amendments require that any newly legalized immigrants pay back taxes, comply with federal welfare requirements and endure a five-year waiting period before taking advantage of any tax credits provided under Obamacare, and holds that unauthorized workers be prohibited from receiving Social Security benefits.

“The vast majority of immigrants who come to America -- whether legally or not -- come in search of a chance at a better life, not to become dependent on government,” said Rubio, who recently threatened to vote against his own bill unless changes were made. “The purpose of this immigration bill cannot and should not be to provide as many immigrants as possible with as many government benefits as possible.”

Hatch, who offered a similar proposal during debate over the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, said his “common-sense amendments” will “garner broader support from across America and throughout the Senate for this legislation.”

“What we are talking about is a basic fairness that those wanting to become American citizens have to play by the rules, just as Americans do today,” Hatch said.

Several other amendments are expected to roil the debate. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has offered an amendment to require congressional approval of the Department of Homeland Security’s border and fencing security plan. Under the proposal, Congress will be required to vote within 30 days after receiving the DHS report to determine whether the action meets the border security objectives.

An amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who served as the primary opponent of the bill during that debate, requires that the southern border be “effectively” secured for six months before the DHS secretary can grant anyone registered provisional immigrant status, allowing them to stay in the country.

Under the Grassley amendment, effective control is defined as persistent surveillance of the border and maintaining an effectiveness rate of 90 percent or higher. The effectiveness rate is determined by dividing the number of apprehensions and turn-backs by the total number of illegal entries.