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Immigration Reform Amendments Target Border Security


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

We begin this hour with a massive bill to overhaul the nation's immigration laws. Today it became the central focus of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those senators may decide to add to it, carve it up, kill it outright or leave most of its 800-plus pages largely unchanged.

NPR's David Welna followed the action today and joins us now from the Capitol. David, this bill took so many weeks and a lot of compromises when that Senate Gang of Eight came together. What are the chances of it emerging from committee with that bipartisan support intact?

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Well, Audie, as the Judiciary Committee markup got under way today, there were more than 300 amendments being offered to the immigration bill, and two-thirds of them were from Republicans, and many of those were aimed at moving the bill more to the right. But there are Republicans who are very much in favor of passing an immigration bill this year if only to keep from losing even more Latino voters than they've already lost.

And because Democrats have long supported more generous immigration laws, we've had a fairly unusual, for this Congress, bipartisan collaboration putting this bill together. New York Democrat Charles Schumer is a leader of the Gang of Eight who's also on the Judiciary Committee, and he implored colleagues today not to drive a stake through the heart of the bill.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: If you don't agree with everything - no one does - be constructive. We are open to changes. But don't make an effort to kill a bill that is the best hope for immigration reform, I believe, that we've had in this country and, frankly, the best hope to help break the bipartisan - the partisan gridlock that has strangled the Senate, the Congress and the country.

CORNISH: So what options do opponents of the bill have to undermine it and make it unpalatable to its backers?

WELNA: Well, I don't think that there's a lot of mischief that those opponents can do while the bill is still in the committee because they're simply outnumbered there. One of those opponents is the newly - the new Republican senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. He's strongly against the path to citizenship that the bill offers most of the millions who are now in the country illegally. He warned the bill will have to change if it's to make it through not just the Democratic-led Senate, but also the GOP-controlled House.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: In my view, if those provisions are insisted upon - and the majority has the votes to insist on those provisions - it is likely to scuttle this bill and cause it to be voted down in the House of Representatives. I don't want this bill to be voted down, and I hope the stakeholders who want this bill to be passed will be interested in amendments to craft a bill that will pass.

WELNA: But Cruz failed to get much support for an amendment that he offered today that would have tripled the number of border patrol agents and quadruple the money spent on other border security. Democrats reminded him that his proposal would cost a lot of money that's not in the bill.

CORNISH: And, of course, this is just the first day of amendments. What else has happened to this bill?

WELNA: Well, today's focus was almost entirely on border security, which is the first part of the bill. It currently stipulates that certain plans have to be drawn up for securing the border. But Republicans wanted to add provisions that would not allow any legalization of unlawful immigrants until the border is entirely secured, and those provisions all failed.

But Democrats clearly are looking for more Republican support for this bill. So they passed amendments today that guarantee the bill will be paid for, and which also expanded the areas of the Southern border that have to be secured.

CORNISH: So, David, looking ahead, what should we be watching for as other parts of the bill are possibly amended?

WELNA: Well, one big thing to look out for is a pair of amendments that committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has filed. They would add provisions to the immigration bill allowing gay Americans to sponsor foreign-born spouses or partners for getting green cards, just as other married couples can do now.

Republicans warn that if such provisions are added, they would sink the bill. And the big question now is whether Leahy will offer those amendments in committee where they'd probably pass or wait until the bill gets to the full Senate, probably in June, and he hasn't tipped his hand yet.

CORNISH: That's NPR's David Welna at the Capitol. David, thank you.

WELNA: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.