June 27 (Bloomberg) -- 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 get a 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, scheduled for a final vote at 4 p.m. Washington time today, is the product of months of painstaking negotiations aimed at securing support from as many senators as possible from both parties.
The measure’s final passage "gets it out of the Senate with the wind at its back," Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said today. "Amnesty was the word of the day in 2006 and 2007. Now there’s been a sea change. Legal status for the 11 million is seen as a practical solution."
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 it 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, House leaders said their chamber will consider its own legislation on border control, yet details have yet to be worked out on how to proceed.
"The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes," House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said today in Washington. "Immigration reform has to be grounded in real border security."
Boehner 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 immigration legislation into smaller pieces.
So far, the judiciary panel has approved measures setting up a new farm guest worker program; strengthening enforcement of immigration laws, and expanding an electronic employment verification program. The panel today will consider high-skilled worker visas. The bills approved by the committee’s Republicans haven’t attracted Democratic support, defying Boehner’s position that immigration overhaul should pass with a majority of both Republicans and Democrats.
"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."
Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican, said 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."
--Editors: David Ellis, Laurie Asseo
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