Senate begins immigration debate, spurs high stakes fight

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The Senate begins its floor debate over the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill this week, and both sides are rolling out polls and endorsements to win public commitments from the many uncommitted senators.

New Hampshire’s Republican senator, Kelly Ayotte, announced Sunday she would back the bill, giving bill backers a fifth GOP vote.

“In addition to fixing our illegal immigration problem, the bill …. [ensures] our hospitality and agricultural sectors are able to fill jobs that Americans won’t perform [by creating] a new guest worker visa program,” she said in a Sunday statement.

The 1,000-page bill needs 60 votes to pass the Senate, but its complexity allows senators many opportunities to posture as critics or supporters without finally committing themselves to either side.

They can continue to posture until Majority Leader Harry Reid calls for a cloture vote to end the floor debate during the next few weeks.

Reid played hardball Sunday in an interview on the Spanish-language TV station, Univision, by saying the proposed amendment by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn is a “poison pill.”

Conservative critics of the bill, however, say Cornyn’s amendment is political theater and may be designed to help GOP senators portray themselves as hardliners while also voting for the bill.

The Cornyn amendment requires the administration to declare it has stopped 90 percent of border crossers before it allows the former illegal immigrants to swap their work permits for green cards 10 years after passage of the bill.

The conservative critics also rolled out a poll by NumbersUSA, an organization that favors “lower immigration levels,” showing public opposition to many provisions in the bill, which was created by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and seven other senators, including four Republicans.

The bill would bring in and legalize an estimated 33 million people over the next decade, allow companies to bring in more than 10 million non-agricultural guest workers, and in exchange, require the government to draft a plan for increasing border security.

NumbersUSA’s poll shows that only 21 percent of Americans believe the country needs workers to offset a claimed labor shortage, only 10 percent support an increase in immigration, and 60 percent want increased security before work-permits are awarded. The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies.

Since July 2008, the number of Americans with jobs has dropped by 3 million to 144 million, while the working-age population has climbed 9 million to 245 million, including roughly 4 million working-age immigrants.

In Ayotte’s New Hampshire, the employment total is still roughly 15,000 below its 2007 peak, despite a population growth of roughly 8,000 to 1.321 million. In 2012, companies won federal permission to bring in 1,237 guest-workers into New Hampshire for skilled jobs.

Bill advocates released a poll conducted by Latino Decisions, which is run by proponents of a major amnesty.

The poll showed that “Republicans need to help pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship — they won’t be able to talk to Latino voters unless they do,” claimed America’s Voice, a group that favor large-scale immigration.

To win some Latino voters, the GOP needs to “embrace full and fair comprehensive immigration reform,” said a statement from the group.

“When asked whether or not Congress ‘should focus only on border security first’ or ‘address both a path to citizenship and border security together,’ 81% said both … [and] only 13% of Latino voters agreed with the border security first approach,” said the statement.

The 500 registered Latino voters in the poll gave President Barack Obama a 74 percent approval rating, and a 19 percent disapproval rating.

The respondents also gave congressional Democrats a 68 percent approval rating, and gave Republicans in Congress a 32 percent approval rating.

Sixty-six percent said they would likely vote Democratic in 2014, while 20 percent said they will likely vote GOP in 2014.

The pending immigration bill is expected to increase the Latino voting population by many millions around 2030.

“Although [45 percent of respondents] may say they’ll think more favorably about a Republican that endorses amnesty, it’s unlikely that a single issue will outweigh their reliance on government benefits and their support for Democrats,” countered Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which wants to shrink the current immigration flow.

The GOP can improve its support among Hispanics by boosting employment and wages via immigration reductions, Dane told The Daily Caller.

“By reducing immigration, we’ll have less people competing at the bottom of the economic scale … more immigrants will be succeeding and moving up into tax brackets where it might be in their best interests to vote Republican,” he said.

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