Senate panel passes draft immigration bill

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Democrats celebrated the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval of the far-reaching, “Gang of Eight” immigration bill on Tuesday, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s gave his apparent backing for the measure.

The bill was pushed through the committee late May 21 with 13 votes to 5 votes, one month after the complex 876-page bill was introduced.

An audience of amnesty supporters celebrated, shouting, “Si, se puede,” or “Yes, we can.”

Immigration advocates cheered the vote. “Today immigration reform took a giant step forward,” said a statement from Frank Sharry, the director of America’s Voice.

Three Republicans voted for the Democratic-led measure, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has pushed to increase the inflow of graduate-level workers.

The two other Republicans who voted for the bill were South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. Both are part of the Gang of Eight that developed the bill in secret, and were referred to as “our Republicans” on Monday by Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the lead author of the bill.

McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader, also announced his tacit support for the high-risk measure, which will add up to 30 million low-skill immigrants to the voter rolls by 2035, despite strong opposition from GOP-leaning middle-class and working-class voters.

“It’s my intention … [to] see if it we’re able to pass a bill that actually moves the ball in the right direction,” according to The Hill.

“The Judiciary Committee has not in any fundamental way undone the agreement reached by the eight senators so I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get a bill we can pass here in the Senate,” McConnell said.

The bill will need 60 votes to pass the Senate. Several Democratic senators will likely vote against the bill, forcing supporters to get the approval of several additional GOP Senators.

McConnell’s support for the bill is also a risk for him — he’s facing an election battle in 2014, and his chances will be undermined by a divided GOP base.

For example, the grass-roots group Americans for Legal Immigration decried the vote. “All current ‘immigration reform’ plans being considered would eventually create a new voting bloc that would destabilize American politics further while preventing any future effective immigration or border law enforcement!,” it said.

But the bill is strongly backed by wealthy donors and business lobbies, who stand to gain from the increased supply of guest-workers and customers.

Sessions and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley led the opposition to the bill in the committee. If the bill passes the Senate after floor debate in June, it won’t become law unless the House also approves a similar measure.

House Speaker John Boehner has said he would like to see the House pass an immigration bill, even though most of his party opposes an amnesty for the 11 million illegal immigrants.

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and John Cornyn also voted against the bill.

Sessions says the bill’s amnesty section will cost taxpayers at least $6.3 trillion over the next five decades, and its weak border security measures will allow further illegal immigration.

“The core promise from this bill’s sponsors was that it would be enforcement first … we now know it is legalization first,” he said in a statement.

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