Senate Immigration Debate Begins with GOP Amendment Fight
WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans dissatisfied with the border security measures contained in bipartisan immigration reform legislation are rallying around amendments intended to make it almost impossible for undocumented workers to make it across the southern border.
One proposal receiving substantial attention, offered by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), rewrites a significant portion of the reform measure, pieced together by a bipartisan coalition known as the Group of Eight.
One of the bill’s authors, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has announced his support for the Cornyn measure. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who at one point was thought to be sympathetic to the bill now before the full Senate, indicated he will oppose the measure unless the Cornyn amendment, or something like it, is adopted.
The amendment, which Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, has characterized as “a poison pill” intended to undermine the legislation, prohibits the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country from obtaining any sort of legal permanent residency until the federal government meets stringent border enforcement goals, including a complete awareness of activity along the border and 98 percent of all illegal crossings are thwarted.
In addition, the Cornyn amendment requires the implementation of a biometric system to track visa holders to keep tabs on their comings and goings and the creation of an E-Verify system – also called for by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) – so employers can determine if prospective hires are in the country legally.
Again, under the measure, no one would be afforded any sort of legal status unless those programs are in place.
“Sen. Cornyn’s proposal would do exactly what proponents of the current legislation say they support – require border security first and then proceed with other reforms,” Kirk said. “The metrics are not unreasonable, the goals are not unobtainable and the amendment is not a ‘poison pill.’ As we move forward with consideration of this bill, I urge Democratic leaders to rethink a strategy that castigates those who seek true immigration reform and also consider border security a top national security priority.”
Cornyn, who titled his proposal the Requiring Enforcement, Security and safety while Upgrading Lawful Trade and travel Simultaneously (RESULTS) Amendment, said it is necessary to assure the American public that the federal government is serious about closing the border.
“Americans are tired of hearing endless border security promises without seeing any realistic mechanism for guaranteeing results,” Cornyn said. “My amendment would guarantee such a mechanism and it would guarantee the results that Washington has long promised but never delivered.”
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Cornyn added, “The true poison pill would be the failure to take sensible measures by adopting measures like mine which are designed to solve the problem.”
As it currently stands, the bill, titled The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, addresses border issues by requiring the Department of Homeland Security to provide Congress with a plan to maintain persistent surveillance along the border that would stop more than 90 percent of illegal entries. The department furthermore would be required to report to Congress on how effectively it is implementing its plan, any impediments to fulfilling the plan and what actions it will take to address such impediments.
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.