The U.S. Senate voted to take up immigration legislation as Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, demanded more stringent border-security requirements and said the bill has "serious flaws."
The 84-15 vote opens the measure for proposed changes. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters today that a border-security proposal by Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn was "the key amendment" to the immigration legislation.
"There will need to be major changes to this bill if it’s going to become law," including on border security, government benefits for immigrants and taxes, McConnell said.
Democrats are pressing for passage of comprehensive immigration legislation that President Barack Obama has made a priority after Hispanic voters gave him 71 percent support in the November election. The bill would create a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants while tightening security at the border with Mexico.
The Senate measure includes $4.5 billion for tighter border security. It requires 100 percent surveillance and a 90 percent apprehension rate along the U.S.-Mexico border before any undocumented immigrant in the U.S. could qualify for permanent legal residency and eventual citizenship.
Cornyn wants to impose more border-security requirements before undocumented U.S. immigrants can seek legal status. In a floor speech today, he said his proposal wasn’t intended to splinter the bill’s bipartisan support.
"My amendment demands results," Cornyn said, adding that the Senate plan "is satisfied with just more promises, promises that have never been kept."
Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today that if lawmakers have proposals to improve the bill’s border security provisions, "let’s take a look at it." Later, he told reporters that the Texas senator’s amendment "would be a poison pill" that would kill the legislation.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, is crafting a border security amendment with the goal of gaining Republican support.