A bloc of 12 pro-immigration senators blocked a GOP amendment to freeze the proposed legalization of 11 million illegals until the border is secured, highlighting a fundamental political divide on the first day of voting on the far-reaching Senate immigration bill.
“The bill is … legalization first and enforcement later, and just opposite what the people think they’re getting, and opposite to what many members of Congress think is in the bill before us,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, the leading Republican on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.
The defeat, however, gives critics an obvious argument during national debates over the immigration bill. Numerous polls show strong public demand for a secure border with Mexico.
Democrats defeated, by 12 votes to 6, an amendment that would have frozen the conditional legalization process until the White House actually completes construction of a two-layer fence all along the border. Public support for a fence is also high.
The majority bloc, led by chairman Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the author of the pending bill, insisted that Grassley amendment would not increase security, but would stop the legalization.
The amendment “would basically delay probably forever legalization and bringing people out of the shadows,” Schumer claimed.
The amendment “would be less effective in making our borders … safer and more secure than what we do in the bill,” he insisted.
Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham — both of whom worked with Schumer to draft the bill — voted with the 10 Democrats.
Six GOP senators voted for Grassley’s measure. They included Grassley, and John Cornyn, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Jeff Sessions and Orrin Hatch.
Advocates for the bill decried Grassley’s amendment. Phillip Wolgin, an analyst at the Center for American Progress, called it a “poison pill.”
Democrats insisted the bill already has a “trigger” to enforce border security.
“We can’t move forward until we have a comprehensive plan” about improving security, said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, another co-author of the plan. Illegal immigrants can’t get a formal green card until the plan is submitted, he said.
Since January, advocates for the bill have said the measure will secure the border, and have repeatedly cited polls that show public support for legalization that is tied to measures that curb border crossing and the hiring of illegal immigrants.
“Grassley claims polling shows people want border secured first,” said a tweet from Americas’ Voice, a pro-immigration group. “THEY DON’T. Want legalization @ same time.”
However, several polls also show a majority of the public is opposed to legalization if the border isn’t secured.
A May 7 poll released by Rasmussen reported that 66 percent of respondents said legalization should be provided only after the border is secured. Just 30 percent of Americans trust the government to enforce the border after the illegal immigrants receive legal status, according to Rasmussen.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, the leading GOP member of the eight-senator group that drafted the 867-page bill, has repeatedly said the bill includes a “trigger” that prevents the award of formal residency to former illegals until the Homeland Security chief says the border is secure.
But Grassley and Sessions were adamant.
“The triggers are meaningless, and millions of people will be legalized in the first few month after we pass this,” said Grassley.
Border security “is a huge, huge part of what this discussion is all about,” said Sessions.
The advocates’ promise to secure the border after legalization, he said, is a “shell game.”
The 867-page bill is expected to provide legal status to many of the at least 11 million illegal immigrants, bring in another 20 million people over the next decade, accelerate the future inflow of immigrants’ relatives, increase the supply of agricultural laborers and boost the annual inflow of blue-collar and professional guest workers above 1 million.
The total cost to taxpayers is unclear. The legalization of low-skill workers is expected to spur benefit spending by $6.3 trillion over 50 years, but advocates say the bill’s various costs will be offset by economic gains.