House opposes core proposal to provide path to citizenship, questions border security.
Kathleen Hunter and Roxana Tiron
The most significant revision of immigration law in a generation, which the Senate is on track to pass today, faces resistance in the Republican-led House where opposition to a path to citizenship remains strong.
Many House Republicans prefer a piecemeal approach with an emphasis on showing that border security measures are working before considering legal status for an estimated 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants. The citizenship path is at the core of the Senate’s comprehensive bill.
"It’s dead on arrival here as is because you couldn’t a get majority of Republicans there," Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an interview at the Capitol. "Why in the world would a majority of Republicans embrace something in the House that a majority of Republicans in the Senate didn’t embrace?"
The Senate bill, which could come to a final vote as soon as today, is the product of months of painstaking negotiations aimed at securing support from as many senators as possible from both parties. Still, the chamber’s top Republican said he’ll oppose the measure.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said today that he will vote against the bill because he isn’t convinced that the legislation would secure the U.S. border and deter a future wave of illegal immigration. His refusal to support the bill may influence Republican support for the law in the House.
"I had wanted very much to support a reform to our immigration law," McConnell said on the Senate floor today. "So it’s with a great deal of regret, for me at least, that the final bill didn’t turn out to be something that I could support."
The measure seeks to balance the path to citizenship that Democrats demand with strong enough border security to satisfy Republicans. At the behest of Republicans, senators yesterday adopted an amendment that would direct $38 billion in resources to securing the border, a proposal that drew the support of 15 Republicans and allowed the bill to advance.
Meanwhile, the House remains uncertain over how to proceed with its immigration legislation as a prelude to cross-chamber negotiations on a final bill.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has let Virginia Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Judiciary Committee chairman, set the pace and tone for the House’s efforts on immigration.
Goodlatte prefers dividing the immigration bill into smaller pieces. Last week the committee’s Republicans, without Democratic backing, approved a measure setting up a new farm guest worker program and another provision strengthening enforcement of immigration laws.
Yesterday the panel in a bipartisan vote approved legislation focusing on an electronic employment verification program. The panel today will consider high-skilled worker visas.
"The path forward in the House is going to look different than in the Senate," said Angela Maria Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic-aligned research group in Washington.
Kelley described the fact that the House hasn’t drafted a proposal to address the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. as "a pretty glaring omission in terms of effective policy."
Boehner yesterday told Republican colleagues at a closed- door meeting that the House won’t take up the Senate’s bill, according to Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican.
"In every way, shape and form, that just isn’t going to happen," Fleming said, adding that House Republicans "can’t even open the discussion" of citizenship for the undocumented "until we have secure borders."
The Senate bill, unveiled in April, was drafted after months of talks between four Republican and four Democratic senators known as the Gang of Eight.
The Judiciary Committee spent three weeks considering more than 100 amendments to the measure in May. Four of the bill’s authors are members of the panel, and banded together to defeat proposals from both sides of the aisle that could imperil support for the legislation.
The Senate bill would double the U.S. Border Patrol’s size by adding 20,000 agents, require 700 miles of fencing at the U.S.-Mexico border, and add unmanned aerial drones to help police the border before any undocumented immigrant could gain permanent legal status, known as a green card.
The legislation would require all employers to use an e- verify system to check workers’ legal status, and all airports and seaports to have a visa entry and exit system before any of the undocumented could be granted a green card, a precursor to citizenship.
Still, the new border provisions don’t go far enough for some Senate Republicans, including South Dakota’s John Thune, who was among the 29 Republicans who opposed the border amendment.
Thune said yesterday in an interview at the Capitol that there was "no question that the House is going to be a much heavier lift in terms of the substance of the bill, particularly with regard to border-security issues."