The Commercial Appeal
Senate passes migrant statute
But House jeers immigration plan
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.