By Erica Werner, Associated Press
June 12, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate debate on far-reaching immigration legislation turned Wednesday to border security, with Republicans arguing that the bill needs much stronger provisions in that area and Democrats suggesting that some Republicans are just out to kill the legislation.
This discordant note burst into view just a day after senators voted overwhelmingly to officially open debate on the landmark bill. It has been a top priority for President Barack Obama, who would like to make it the signature achievement of the first year of his second term. But the latest dispute underscored the political obstacles standing in the way of enactment.
Even if the measure is approved, it faces a tough road in the Republican-led House of Representatives, which is taking a more piecemeal approach to the legislation.
The Senate measure sets out a 13-year journey to citizenship for some 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, allowing the process toward citizenship to begin only after certain border security goals have been met. But critics say those border “triggers” aren’t strong enough, and a number of Republicans are proposing amendments to strengthen them.
An amendment offered by Sen. Charles Grassley, top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, would prohibit anyone from taking the first steps toward citizenship until the secretary of Homeland Security has certified to Congress that the U.S.-Mexico border has been under control for six months.
“Unfortunately too many people have been led to believe that this bill will force the secretary of Homeland Security to secure the border. In fact, it does not guarantee that before legalization,” Grassley said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “That’s why we need to pass my amendment.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and the Judiciary Committee chairman, said he would oppose efforts including Grassley’s amendment “to modify the triggers in ways that could unduly delay or prevent the earned legalization path.”
“I welcome additional ideas for how to enhance border security and public safety,” Leahy said. “But our goal must be to secure the border, not seal it. I will oppose efforts that impose unrealistic, excessively costly, overly rigid, inhumane or ineffective border security measures.”
At the White House Tuesday, Obama insisted the “moment is now” to give the millions living in the United States illegally a chance at citizenship and prodded Congress to send him a bill by fall.
Supporters expressed confidence they could muster the 60 votes needed for the bill to overcome Republican stalling tactics and pass the 100-member Senate by July 4th. Democrats control 54 Senate votes, and Republicans 46. But a number of opponents said success was far from assured.
And some key supporters including Sens. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, are looking for closer to 70 votes on final passage to show resounding momentum for the bill and pressure the House to act. The leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, has said repeatedly in recent days that he wants to act on immigration, but it’s not clear how the issue will move forward in his chamber, where many conservatives view citizenship for immigrants here illegally as amnesty.
The bill’s four Democratic and four Republican authors in the Senate were looking for ways to accept Republican amendments on border security and other issues that could win over additional supporters — without making the path to citizenship so onerous that Democratic support is threatened. Some outside advocates and Democrats including Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, have cautioned that making too many concessions to Republicans could weaken core provisions of the bill, and have argued that it’s more important to get a strong bill with 60 votes than a weaker one with 70.