Countdown to immigration vote begins

Published on June 21st, 2013


Harry Reid says a procedural vote on the border-security agreement will be Monday. | Reuters

By Seung Min Kim
June 21, 2013


By Seung Min KimThe Senate is rushing to the finish line on the Gang of Eight bill, setting up a key vote Monday that could clear the way to final passage of the immigration overhaul by the end of next week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Friday that his chamber will hold a procedural vote on the border-security agreement crafted by Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota on Monday at 5:30 p.m.

The timing meets a goal long set by Senate Democratic leaders to finish working on the bill — a significant rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws — before the July 4 recess. And the compromise from Corker and Hoeven, a so-called “Gang of Two,” pushes the Gang of Eight closer to a supermajority of votes for its bill.

Negotiators have predicted that as many as 15 Senate Republicans may sign on to the overall bill, but that remains a premature figure.

“We’re picking up more supporters each day,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Friday. “We’re not at 70 yet. But we’re gaining support and this amendment helps a great deal.”

The real question mark comes in the GOP-led House, where many Republicans have shown little appetite for the Gang of Eight bill and leadership has been unable to gain conservative support on bipartisan measures such as the farm bill, which failed Thursday.

(Immigration reform bill: Full text) The Senate is expected to pass the Corker-Hoeven deal, which is a compromise centered around a significant increase in security measures along the United States-Mexico border. It includes an additional 20,000 border patrol agents, $3.2 billion in high-tech surveillance equipment, and a requirement to complete 700 miles of fencing along the border.

“This is like the Border Patrol’s dream plan,” Corker told reporters Friday.

The overall bill includes a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, while modernizing the nation’s legal immigration system and adding enforcement measures in order to deter future illegal immigration into the United States.

Though the border security component is the centerpiece of the Corker-Hoeven deal, the agreement includes a slew of sweeteners for senators considered swing votes for the overall bill.

For instance, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, long considered a likely Republican supporter of immigration reform, sought proposals to require the Department of Homeland Security to spell out how it will implement a biometric entry-exit system at the 10 busiest airports and calls on DHS figure out how to cut wait times at airports with the most international travelers.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also announced Friday that he is co-sponsoring the Corker-Hoeven agreement. He has wanted to toughen back taxes and benefit provisions for immigrants in the overall bill, and the compromise adopts parts of his amendments.

But perhaps his most controversial demand — a requirement that all back taxes be paid before undocumented immigrants become legalized — was excluded. A Hatch spokeswoman said the senator has not made up his mind on the underlying bill.

Other Republican co-sponsors of the amendment include Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and the GOP members of the Gang of Eight.

Democrats are confident they will lose few — if any — votes from their side, and the border security compromise helps attract a number of red-state Democrats to the immigration bill; Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska and Joe Donnelly of Indiana are co-sponsors of the Corker-Hoeven agreement.

But some liberals aren’t happy. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he would support the compromise, but added that it “reads like a Christmas wish list for Halliburton.”

“I am sure there are federal contracting firms high-fiving at the prospect of all of the spending demanded by Senate Republicans in this amendment,” Leahy said in a floor speech Friday.

Manu Raju and Carrie Budoff Brown contributed to this report

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