- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2013

Senators beat back a final filibuster of the immigration bill Thursday afternoon, clearing the way for the measure to pass in a final vote at 4 p.m. — intact and almost exactly as the Gang of Eight wrote it.

The 68-32 filibuster vote saw all of the chamber’s Democrats and 14 Republicans vote for it in a signal of how successful the bill’s authors were in preventing the GOP from changing the it during the floor debate.

Only one major amendment was debated and passed over the last 17 days, when the bill has been pending in the Senate. As of noon, 554 amendments had been filed, but both sides butted heads over allowing votes and that shut down the amendment process for most of the debate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would demand senators vote from their chairs — a ceremonial move that is designed to recognize the importance of the bill.

“It’s historic in nature,” said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, who is one of the chief reasons the legislation has advanced so far this year.

But his counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the GOP’s floor leader, said the bill cannot win his support because it still falls short of guaranteeing there won’t be a repeat of the 1986 amnesty, when the government legalized illegal immigrants but didn’t follow through on enforcement, leaving the problem to grow into today’s population of 11 million new illegal immigrants.

“It just doesn’t say to me, at least, that we’ve learned the lessons of 1986, and that we won’t find ourselves right back in the same situation we found ourselves in after that reform,” Mr. McConnell said. “If you can’t be reasonably certain that the border is secure as a condition of legalization, there’s just no way to be sure that millions more won’t follow the illegal immigrants who are already here. As other have rightly pointed out, you also can’t be sure that future congresses won’t just reverse whatever assurances we make today about border security in the future.”

The bill offers quick legal status to illegal immigrants, but withholds full citizenship rights until some conditions are met.

The key difference between supporters and opponents has been over how strict to make those conditions. Democrats have said they don’t want to do anything that would interfere with the path to citizenship, and they have succeeded in beating back amendments to make the citizenship path contingent on provable success in reducing illegal immigration.

Instead, the bill ties citizenship to measures of spending and to whether certain infrastructure and manpower are in place.

The one major amendment that passed called for adding 20,000 Border Patrol agents to the southwest, and would push the Homeland Security Department to build an additional 350 miles of pedestrian fencing, which would, in many places, likely replace the vehicle barriers the government built in the last six or seven years after the last immigration debate.

Ahead of the final vote, both sides of the debate were fiercely lobbying.

The unions for both immigration agents and officers who handle legal immigration benefits called the legislation an “anti-public safety bill and an anti-law enforcement bill,” saying it will actually cut down on interior enforcement, which all sides agree is critical to preventing a new wave of illegal immigration.

“It provides legalization for thousands of dangerous criminals while making it more difficult for our officers to identify public safety and national security threats,” the two unions’ presidents said in a joint statement.

On the other side the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it backs the bill and warned lawmakers it was grading them on their vote.

“The chamber believes this bill is a strong, positive step towards transforming America’s broken immigration system into one that drives job creation and economic growth by both better meeting the needs of employers, and better utilizing the unique talents of people here and abroad,” said R. Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs.

Most of the debate over the bill has happened on the GOP side. Democratic support has been unanimous throughout.

Indeed, in previous test votes all of the chamber’s 54 Democrats have backed the bill — a stunning show of unity that contrasts with previous votes over the last decade, when Democrats were divided.

Meanwhile, the GOP appears to be growing more divided, with senators exchanging fierce barbs on the chamber floor, and backers arguing that their opponents are making up charges about the bill.

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