WASHINGTON – Senators prepared Monday for the first votes in the full Senate on a landmark immigration bill, readying amendments on contentious issues including border security, back taxes and health care coverage.
The two votes scheduled for Tuesday afternoon are on procedural measures to officially allow debate to move forward on the far-reaching measure to remake the nation’s immigration laws and offer eventual citizenship to some 11 million people now here illegally.
Both votes are expected to succeed by comfortable margins, because even some senators with deep misgivings about the immigration bill say that the issue deserves a Senate debate.
The real fights will come in the following days and weeks, as Republican senators offer amendments they say are needed to strengthen the bill enough that they can vote in favour. Some of these may pass; others already are being dismissed by the bill’s supporters as attempts to kill the bill.
One of the bill’s authors, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has said the measure needs stronger border control measures if it is going to make it all the way to President Barack Obama’s desk. He’s been supportive of an amendment announced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to add new requirements on border security that need to happen before anyone can obtain a permanent residence green card.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., dismissed Cornyn’s amendment as a “poison pill” in an interview broadcast on Univision over the weekend.
On Monday senators traded arguments on the Senate floor for and against the legislation.
“Given the impact the broken system has on our economy and our families, we cannot afford delay,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “This is a measure the Senate should come together to consider and pass.”
“Unfortunately the bill before us repeats our past mistakes,” said the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. “Nobody disputes this is a bill that legalizes first and enforces later. That’s the core problem.”
The legislation would aim for stiffer border security and would require all employers to check their workers’ legal status, as well as initiate new or expanded visa programs for high-skilled workers, lower-skilled workers and the agriculture sector. At its core is its most contentious element, a 13-year path to citizenship for millions.