June 24, 2013

U.S. Senate lines up solid majority for immigration reform bill

Both Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King voted to proceed with consideration of the measure, although Collins blasted a border-security surge.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Historic immigration legislation cleared a key Senate hurdle with votes to spare on Monday, pointing the way to near-certain passage within days for stepped up security along the border with Mexico and a chance at citizenship for millions living in the country illegally.

click image to enlarge

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, holds a meeting just off the floor of the Senate prior to a vote on a border security amendment to the immigration bill at the Capitol in Washington on Monday.

The Associated Press

IMMIGRATION BILL AT A GLANCE

At its core, the legislation in the Senate would create a 13-year pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.

It also calls for billions of dollars to be spent on manpower and technology to secure the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, including a doubling of the Border Patrol with 20,000 new agents.

The measure also would create a new program for temporary farm laborers to come into the country, and another for lower-skilled workers to emigrate permanently.

At the same time, it calls for an expansion of an existing visa program for highly-skilled workers, a gesture to high-tech companies that rely heavily on foreigners.

In addition to border security, the measure phases in a mandatory program for employers to verify the legal status of potential workers, and separate effort to track the comings and goings of foreigners at some of the nation's airports.

The vote was 67-27, seven more than the 60 needed, with 15 Republicans voting to advance legislation at the top of President Barack Obama's second-term domestic agenda.

Both Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King voted to proceed with consideration of the bill.

The vote came as Obama campaigned from the White House for the bill, saying, "now is the time" to overhaul an immigration system that even critics of the legislation agree needs reform.

For Collins, the vote represented the first indication that the Republican will support the measure when it comes up for final passage likely later this week.

However, Collins distanced herself from some of her Republican colleagues by strongly criticizing as “wasteful” the scope of the border security enhancements intended to pick up additional votes within her own party.

“The amendment considered by the Senate tonight would deploy and station an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents along the southern border,” Collins said in a statement. “This unprecedented surge is excessive, wasteful, and would be enormously expensive at an estimated cost of $25-$30 billion. I am hopeful that the House will lower this figure to a more realistic number before any final bill is considered.”

Overall, however, Collins said the latest version was an improvement over the original bill “and will help to strengthen the security of our borders.”

In a floor speech last week, King called the previous version of the immigration bill “a fair-minded resolution to the current conflict over immigration” that would reduce the tide of illegal immigration while creating a pathway for new immigrants.

Last-minute frustration was evident among opponents. In an unusual slap at members of his own party as well as Democrats, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said it appeared that lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle "very much want a fig leaf" on border security to justify a vote for immigration.

Senate passage on Thursday or Friday would send the issue to the House, where conservative Republicans in the majority oppose citizenship for anyone living in the country illegally.

Some GOP lawmakers have appealed to Speaker John Boehner not to permit any immigration legislation to come to a vote for fear that whatever its contents, it would open the door to an unpalatable compromise with the Senate. At the same time, the House Judiciary Committee is in the midst of approving a handful of measures related to immigration, action that ordinarily is a prelude to votes in the full House.

"Now is the time to do it," Obama said at the White House before meeting with nine business executives who support a change in immigration laws. He added, "I hope that we can get the strongest possible vote out of the Senate so that we can then move to the House and get this done before the summer break" beginning in early August.

He said the measure would be good for the economy, for business and for workers who are "oftentimes exploited at low wages."

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