- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2013

Senators voted Monday to add 20,000 more Border Patrol agents to the southwestern border and require a total of 700 miles of fencing within a decade, clearing the way for the broad immigration bill to pass the chamber this week — but opening deep divisions within the Republican Party.

In the 67-27 vote, 15 Republicans joined Democrats in backing the manpower and infrastructure, but the other Senate Republicans balked, saying the enhancements were chimerical and shouldn’t be used to cover over what they argued was a bad bill that doesn’t do enough to enforce the laws and stop another wave of illegal immigration.

“I don’t know how any Republican who supports border security can vote against this,” said Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who helped write what he called a border “surge.”

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Immigration Reform

“Easy,” Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, said to him moments later as the two men had a stern face-to-face talk on the floor. “The answer is to get real border security.”

The fight over the amendment — and the two senators’ words — underscore the broader battle over immigration. All sides say they want this legalization to be the last for the U.S. and that they want to boost enforcement to prevent a third wave of illegal entries.

But they disagree on whether this plan gets there.

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The vote signals the beginning of the end of the Senate immigration debate.

Because the vote was on a 1,200-page amendment that included all of the original bill, the 67-27 tally shows the full measure probably has sufficient support to pass.

Until Monday, the two-week debate lacked any major action.

Although more than 450 amendments were filed, the Senate held votes on just 13 of them. The vote on strengthening the border was the only major change to pass.

Earlier Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, filed several procedural motions to force final filibuster votes Wednesday that would keep him on schedule to pass the bill out before lawmakers leave at the end of the week for a weeklong July Fourth vacation.

The chamber has not considered any amendments from Democrats to alter the number of guest workers, or to constrict gun rights, expand gay rights or provide better protections to illegal immigrants who would be caught.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a key Florida Republican, has signaled that he is trying to win amendments dealing with how many criminal violations an illegal immigrant can have and still be eligible for legalization, and raising the bar on the kinds of English language skills someone must demonstrate to earn legal status.

“There is simply no reason we need to end this debate now in order to meet some artificial deadline determined by the majority leader’s summer schedule,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

But a large chunk of his own members might desert him and vote to move the bill along on the Democrats’ schedule.

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