UPDATE, 7:20 p.m.:
The Corker-Hoeven amendment cleared a hurdle late this afternoon when the U.S. Senate passed a motion, with a vote of 67-27, to invoke cloture on the measure. The vote stopped debate on the amendment, and it is now headed for a final vote later this week.
Although some decried the measure’s border-enforcement measures, today’s vote was also seen as a major test that reflects immigration reform has — at least for now — a legitimate chance to make it to President Obama’s desk this year. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives must still debate the bill.
“This vote strongly suggests that immigration reform is on track to pass by more than a 2-1 margin later this week,” Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, said in a statement. “It means that 11 million immigrants, including Dreamers and others, are much closer to the day when they can live freely and contribute fully to the country they call home.”
The U.S. Senate is scheduled to cast key votes on Monday on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, including action on a border-enforcement amendment that many say is the glue holding the compromise together.
The Corker-Hoeven amendment, by Republican Sens. John Hoeven, N.D., and Bob Corker, Tenn., would add about 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as about 20,000 more U.S. Border Patrol agents. That would have to happen before immigrants who are in the country illegally could obtain legal or permanent residency status, an essential step for those whose ultimate goal is earned citizenship. There are approximately 1.6 million undocumented immigrants in Texas.
Supporters say the amendment addresses holes in the original bill, authored by the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” that didn’t do enough to seal the border and prevent future flows in illegal migration.
The Associated Press reported that at least a dozen Republican senators have indicated their support for the measure. However, U.S. Sens Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Texas Republicans, have already announced they will not support it. In a statement, Cruz said the measure is “reminiscent” of the health care overhaul commonly referred to as Obamacare, in which members voted for a bill without knowing what was in it.
“The lengthy amendment to replace the Gang of 8’s original bill was crafted behind closed doors and introduced late on Friday, after many members had left town,” Cruz said in a statement. He also said the substance of the amendment amounts to an “empty promise” and allows what he calls "amnesty" for lawbreakers.
“The Schumer-Corker-Hoeven amendment maintains the Gang of 8’s flawed framework of guaranteed and immediate legalization, followed by an empty promise of eventual border security,” he said. “This structure repeats the mistakes of the 1986 amnesty, which, as noted by former Attorney General Edwin Meese, is precisely the same as this ‘deal,’ and only encourages more illegal immigration.”
Cornyn said that instead of an “11th hour” approach, the Senate should have considered his RESULTS amendment. Cornyn unsuccessfully filed the measure earlier this month that, if passed, would have required the Department of Homeland Security to achieve 100 percent situational awareness — defined as understanding the trends of illegal cross-border activities — and operational control of the border within five years.
Cornyn's proposal would also have provided $1 billion for infrastructure improvements at the nation's ports; required that wait times at the ports be reduced by 50 percent; established a fingerprint-reading exit system at the ports; and prevented immigrants who have been convicted of certain crimes — like child or domestic abuse or drunk driving — from obtaining legal status.
“Unfortunately this measure still omits a real trigger or objective measure to see if the proposed strategy is working,” Cornyn said in a statement. “At a time when the trust deficit with the federal government is so huge, we do not need more promises from the government — we need measurable results. ... The same tired approach of crafting a piece of legislation that does nothing more than throw money at the problem simply won’t cut it.”
Immigrants’ rights and pro-reform groups have also blasted the measure, alleging it is nothing more than a blatant attempt to deny a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. The border is secure, they add, and mandating unreasonable metrics only serve to delay or prevent progress.
“[The amendment] is an assault on our system of checks and balances and seriously threatens the quality of life of border residents,” said Cristina Parker, the communications director for the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights in a statement. “Overhauling the nation's immigration process is urgently necessary, but this should not be done without proper consultation with those communities who must live with the effects of poorly thought-out policy. We cannot not remain silent as politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to treat border communities as an endlessly expendable trade-off for immigration reform."
Other see it as a necessary compromise.
America’s Voice, a coalition of proponents of reform, said the amendment is a misguided and burdensome, but acts as a stepping stone toward their ultimate goal.
“At this critical moment, we accept that the amendment must and will be approved to move the bill forward,” Frank Sharry, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “We understand this deal comes with an additional 10 or so Republican votes in favor of immigration reform. The nature of bipartisan compromise is that you have to accept some things you don't like in order to get the things you do like.”
The debate is also likely to focus on a Congressional Budget Office analysis released last week that said the Senate’s bill would reduce the deficit over the next 10 years by $197 billion, and by almost $700 billion through 2033.