The U.S. Senate rejected a Republican proposal to the immigration measure that would prohibit undocumented immigrants from gaining legal status until the Department of Homeland Security could show it had "effective control" of the borders for six months.
The proposal, offered by Senator Charles Grassley, was defeated on a 43-57 vote. It is the first of dozens of amendments proposed to a revision of immigration law to receive a vote on the Senate floor.
"This amendment is the first of many that will improve the bill and that will do what the authors of the bill say they want to do: Secure the border," Grassley said. "As we read the details of the bill, it’s clear that the approach taken is legalize first, enforce later."
The Senate bill would create a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants while tightening security at the border with Mexico.
Republicans including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a co- sponsor of the bill, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have said the bill’s border security elements must be strengthened to win their vote.
The legislation would allow undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria to apply for legal status six months after it is enacted, once the Department of Homeland Security submits plans for securing the border.
Grassley’s amendment would have barred anyone from obtaining that status until the department had certified that the borders had been secured for six months.
"My amendment ensures the border is secure before one person gets legal status," Grassley said.
The bill’s authors opposed the amendment, saying it would unravel the bipartisan coalition that has formed around the legislation and place unrealistic restrictions on the citizenship path.
"The clearly would undo the entire theme and structure of the immigration bill," said New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democratic co-sponsor of the bill. "It will take years and years until the border is secure."
He added, "We may never get the real immigration reform that is needed, so desperately needed, by the country."
Among the other Republican amendments is a proposal from Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber’s minority whip, who would require the DHS and the Government Accountability Office to certify that the U.S. has "full operational control" of the border before undocumented immigrants could gain permanent legal residency.