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Immigration Passage Seen in U.S. Senate If Changes Avoided

June 24, 2013

It’s crunch time in the U.S. Senate, as backers of the most significant revision of immigration law in a generation seek to pass the bill this week.

Kathleen Hunter and Laura Litvan

It’s crunch time in the U.S. Senate, as backers of the most significant revision of immigration law in a generation seek to pass the bill this week by avoiding changes that could cost them votes.

Advocates of the legislation, which includes a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in exchange for tougher border security, struck a bipartisan deal last week to double the U.S. Border Patrol’s size and require 700 miles of fencing at the border with Mexico.

The accord, on which the Senate will take an initial vote today, is designed to attract Republican support there and make the bill more acceptable to the Republican-controlled House, where opposition to citizenship for undocumented immigrants runs deep. It replaces a more stringent border plan Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called a "poison pill" that would have imperiled passage.

"It’s a step forward, but it doesn’t cross the goal line," said John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. "The Republican base is deeply skeptical of any immigration bill, and it faces real challenges in the House."

The Senate is starting a third week of debate on immigration legislation. Senate Democratic leaders want to pass a bill before the one-week break scheduled to begin June 28. The last major revision of U.S. immigration law was in 1986.

House Prospects

Even if an immigration bill passes the Senate, its prospects in the House are dim. The House Judiciary Committee, led by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, is considering individual pieces of immigration legislation, and Goodlatte has said he doesn’t favor the Senate’s comprehensive approach.

Senators waited until this week to consider the most contentious proposed changes to the bill. In addition to the border-security proposal, which is opposed by some Republicans who say it’s still not strong enough, they may debate proposals to limit benefits for immigrants who gain legal status and provide equal protection for same-sex couples.

"This is so typical of the Senate. It’s hurry up and wait," said Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois, a Democratic co-sponsor of the bill. "When the pressure starts to build, it’s more likely that we’re going to have some results."

President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. today at the White House with business leaders, including Steve Case, chairman, chief executive officer and founder of Revolution LLC; Sunil Puri, founder of First Rockford Group Inc.; and Hamdi Ulukaya, chief executive, founder and president of Chobani Inc., to push for Senate passage of the bill.

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