The Commercial Appeal

Senate passes migrant statute

But House jeers immigratio­n plan

- By David Espo and Erica Werner

WASHINGTON — With a solemnity reserved for momentous occasions, the Senate passed historic legislatio­n Thursday offering the hope of citizenshi­p to millions of immigrants living illegally in America’s shadows.

The bill also promises a military-style effort to secure the long-porous border with Mexico. The bipartisan vote was 68-32, with 14 Republican­s joining all 52 Democrats and two independen­ts to support the bill.

The measure now faces a perilous path in the Republican-led House of Representa­tives, where conservati­ves derisively labeled the Senate measure an “amnesty bill” and pronounced it “D.O.A.” Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said flatly, “The House is not going to take up and vote on what-

ever the Senate passes. We’re going to do our own bill.”

Thursday’s vote followed hours of emotional debate. Members of the bipartisan Gang of 8, the group of senators that drafted the measure, appealed to the House members whose turn comes next.

“Do the right thing for America and for your party,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who said his mother emigrated to the United States from Cuba. “Find common ground. Lean away from the extremes. Opt for reason and govern with us.”

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, addressing the “amnesty” charge, said those seeking legal status after living in the United States illegally must “pass a background check, make good on any tax liability and pay a fee and a fine.” There are other requiremen­ts before citizenshi­p can be obtained, he noted as he tried to knock down the idea that the bill makes it easy for those already in the country to become citizens.

Though outnumbere­d, the bill’s opponents were unrelentin­g.

“We will admit dramatical­ly more people than we ever have in our country’s history at a time when unemployme­nt is high and the Congressio­nal Budget Office has told us that average wages will go down for 12 years, that gross national product per capita will decline for 25-plus years, that unemployme­nt will go up,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. “The amnesty will occur, but the enforcemen­t is not going to occur, and the policies for future immigratio­n are not serving the national interest.”

In a written statement, Obama pleaded for resolve by supporters as the House works on the issue. “Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsens­e reform from becoming a reality. We cannot let that happen,” said the president, who was traveling in Africa.

Under a deal brokered last week by Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee and the Gang of 8, the measure requires 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, the completion of 700 miles of fencing and deployment of an array of high-tech devices along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Those living in the country illegally could gain legal status while the border security plan was being implemente­d, but would not be granted permanent resident green cards or citizenshi­p.

Boehner said the separate legislatio­n the House considers will have majority support among Republican­s. Boehner declined to say if there were circumstan­ces under which he could support a pathway to citizenshi­p, but he made clear that securing the border was a priority.

“People have to have confidence that the border is secure before anything else is really going to work. Otherwise, we repeat the mistakes of 1986,” he said, referring to the last time Congress overhauled the immigratio­n system.

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