Senate Advances Immigration Reform Bill

08:20PM Jun 24, 2013
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The 67-27 vote allows the measure to move forward.

The Senate advanced the costliest plan ever to bolster security at the U.S.-Mexico border, drawing enough Republican support to indicate that a broad revision of immigration law will pass by week’s end.

The 67-27 vote allows the measure to move forward. It would double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and require another 350 miles of fencing at the boundary with Mexico—at a price tag its authors say will reach $38 billion.

"Some people have described this as a border surge," said Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who proposed the measure. "The fact is that we are investing resources in securing our border that have never been invested before."

The border-security plan would be attached to the immigration legislation, with both headed for final votes in the Democratic-led Senate later this week. The debate then will shift to the Republican-controlled House, where opposition to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is stronger.

U.S. immigration law hasn’t been significantly altered since 1986. A 2007 immigration rewrite died in the Senate and wasn’t considered in the House. The prospects for passage of a bipartisan bill are greater this time because some Republicans see the issue as a way to boost the party’s appeal with Hispanic voters.

Republicans are trying to reconnect with Hispanic voters after President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the votes cast by the fast-growing voter group in the 2012 election.

Citizenship Path

The immigration bill is on track to pass the Senate with a lopsided majority, with the border-security package attracting additional Republican votes, said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democratic leader.

"With this agreement, we believe we have the makings of a strong bipartisan final vote in favor of this immigration reform bill," Schumer said during floor debate.

The legislation includes a citizenship option for undocumented immigrants and alters the nation’s system of work visas for employees of technology, agriculture and other companies.

Still, prospects in the House are uncertain. The House Judiciary Committee, led by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, is considering separate measures involving aspects of immigration policy, and Goodlatte has said he doesn’t favor the Senate’s comprehensive approach.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said last week he won’t bring an immigration proposal to a vote unless a majority of the chamber’s 234 Republicans support the bill.

$38 Billion

The Senate’s border-security amendment, offered by Corker and John Hoeven of North Dakota, will cost about $38 billion over the next 10 years, the two said in a fact sheet released today. That would be in addition to $8 billion in security measures already in the immigration bill.

The fact sheet says U.S. taxpayers "will more than be made whole" because the measure’s costs will be balanced by higher visa fees and added tax revenue that includes fines for undocumented workers.

The Corker-Hoeven proposal requires that 10 years must pass before undocumented workers in the U.S. can receive permanent legal residency -- and only then if the border-security changes are in place. The border measure includes added pedestrian fencing at the border, 20,000 more border agents and resources for 12 more unmanned aerial drones.

New Contracts

The Senate bill will create as many as 11 million new U.S. residents by 2023.

They will pay $16 billion in fees to cover the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s processing costs. The agency typically spends a quarter of its budget on contracts, meaning the bill may produce $4 billion in contracts. Computer Sciences Corp., SAIC Inc. and General Dynamics Corp. were the agency’s top 2012 contractors, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis by Brian Friel.

The bill would expand the e-verify system used by contractors to check the legal status of applicants before hiring. The Department of Homeland Security has paid Computer Sciences $111 million since 2007 to run the system. IBM Corp., SAIC, as other IT contractors could compete with the company for $1.4 billion in future work, according to Friel’s analysis.

Motorola Solutions Inc. and Harris Corp. lead the 29 companies that provide communications equipment and services to DHS through a standing contract program, according to the analysis. The department would spend $1.2 billion on radios and communications equipment under the bill.

Historic Size

The historic investment would dwarf a package approved in 2010 that is the largest to date. That $600 million measure was geared to the U.S.-Mexico border and provided 1,500 new Border Patrol, Customs and other agents, as well as communications equipment and unmanned aircraft.

The Senate vote today marked the biggest hurdle for the border package, requiring 60 votes to advance.

Before the Senate takes final action on the immigration bill, other amendments could be considered including proposals to limit benefits for immigrants who gain legal status and to provide equal protection for same-sex couples.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the bill’s Republican co-sponsors, has proposed an amendment to bar undocumented immigrants from gaining permanent legal residency until they can read, write and speak English.

The business community is signaling its support for the bill -- with a push yesterday from the White House.

Obama met 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 encourage Senate passage of the legislation.