Immigration debate clears procedural Senate hurdle
FILE - In this March 12, 2013 file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Two votes scheduled for Tuesday afternoon June 11, 2012 were on procedural measures to officially allow debate to move forward on the far-reaching landmark immigration bill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., gestures as he speaks with reporters about the Immigration Bill following a Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. An amendment announced by Cornyn would require 100 percent monitoring of the entire U.S.-Mexico border and 90 percent of would-be crossers to be stopped or turned back before anyone can get a permanent resident green card. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama gestures while speaking about immigration reform, Tuesday, June 11, 2013, in the East Room of the White House. The Senate is preparing to cast the first votes on a landmark bill that offers the best chance in decades to remake the nation's immigration system and offer eventual citizenship to millions. The president was joined by US Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue, second from left, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, third from left, and others. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
In Spanish and English, the Senate pushed contentious immigration legislation over early procedural hurdles with deceptive ease yesterday as President Obama insisted the “moment is now” to give 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally a chance at citizenship.
Despite the lopsided votes, Republicans served notice they will seek to toughen the bill’s border security provisions and impose tougher terms on those seeking to gain legal status. “This bill has serious flaws,” said their party leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, one of several who noted pointedly that the 60-vote majority they will demand for passage is hardly assured.
Even before the first proposed changes were considered, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, outlined the complicated state of play for a measure that he helped draft as a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” and now seeks to alter. With changes to tighten control of the U.S.-Mexican border, he said, about half of the Senate’s 46 Republicans are prepared to vote to create the pathway to citizenship that is backed by most or all of the 55 lawmakers aligned with the Democratic majority.
At the White House, Obama said repeatedly the current immigration system is broken, for the foreign-born who live in the United States legally and illegally alike.
Referring to the 11 million currently in the country unlawfully, he said, “Yes, they broke the rules; they didn’t wait their turn. They shouldn’t be let off easy. They shouldn’t be allowed to game the system. But at the same time, the vast majority of these individuals aren’t looking for any trouble. They’re just looking to provide for their families, contribute to their communities.”
At its core, the bill sets out a 13-year journey to citizenship for the millions of immigrants who arrived in the United States illegally through the end of 2011 or who overstayed their visas. That journey would include paying fines and back taxes and other measures. The bill also requires a tighter border to prevent future illegal immigration.
Other key provisions would create a new program for low-skilled workers to enter the country and expand the number of visas for high-skilled who are particularly in demand in technology firms. The bill also jettisons a decades-old system that favors family ties over education, job skills and other factors in prioritizing prospective legal immigrants.
Obama didn’t say so, but the legislation is likely his best hope of achieving a second-term landmark domestic accomplishment.