Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ruled out any major changes to the immigration bill he will bring to the chamber floor this week, saying in an interview that aired Sunday that he will battle to prevent anyone from altering the core of the bipartisan deal reached by the so-called Gang of Eight.
“If people have suggestions like they did in the Judiciary Committee to change the bill a little bit, I’ll be happy to take a look at that. But we’re not going to have big changes in this legislation,” Mr. Reid said on Univision’s “Al Punto” program.
It’s the same stance he took in 2007, when he strictly controlled the debate on the last major immigration bill and ended up with a measure that was unpalatable to a majority of senators, who blocked it in a bipartisan filibuster.
This year, Mr. Reid has vowed a more open process and likely can count on many more Democratic votes of support since the country’s top labor unions have signed off on the deal, but his announcement that he won’t allow major changes underscores just how fragile this bargain remains.
The bill also gained the support of Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican who wrote in a column posted on her website that the bill meets her goal of border security — though she said she would vote for even stiffer provisions during the floor debate.
“The broken immigration system we have now is unworthy of a great nation. It’s time for Washington to tackle this problem head on,” she said.
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The Senate is slated to vote Tuesday on whether to bring the bill to the floor and officially kick off the debate.
Ahead of that vote, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and one of the eight senators who wrote the bill, said he will not vote for it unless those stiffer border security measures are attached. But he continued to press Hispanics and conservative Republicans to get behind the deal.
In his own appearance on the Spanish-language Univision network, Mr. Rubio tried to assuage some Hispanics who fear that their legal status will be held hostage to border security. Mr. Rubio said illegal immigrants will get quick legal status and work permits regardless of whether the borders are secure — but won’t be given a full pathway to citizenship until more enforcement is imposed.
“Nobody is talking here about preventing legalization. Legalization will take place,” Mr. Rubio told Univision in an interview scheduled to air Sunday.
“First comes legalization, then comes this border security measure and then comes the permanent residency process. What we are talking about here is the permanent residency system,” Mr. Rubio said. “Regarding legalization, a vast majority of my colleagues have already accepted that: that it must take place and that it must start at the same time we start with what has to do with security. That is not conditional. Legalization is not conditional.”
Opponents argue that giving illegal immigrants immediate legal status repeats the mistake of the 1986 amnesty, when millions were put on a quick path to citizenship but promises of tighter border security and interior enforcement went unfulfilled.
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Mr. Rubio has acknowledged that overcoming fears of a repeat is the biggest obstacle to passing legislation this year.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, has said he would offer an amendment on the Senate floor that would allow illegal immigrants to get quick legal status but would make the future pathway to citizenship be dependent on whether certain security goals are met.
The current bill requires only that money be spent, and it doesn’t require any definable security goals be met before illegal immigrants get citizenship.
“The choice for Senate Democrats when I offer my amendment is very simple: If they are sincere about securing the border, here is their chance,” he said. “If they oppose my plan, their claims of securing the border are nothing but lip service designed to manipulate the American people into supporting this flawed bill.”
But Mr. Reid, in the Univision interview taped Friday and aired Sunday, rejected the Texas Republican’s proposal, saying the government already has boosted spending and doesn’t need to impose Mr. Cornyn’s stiff benchmarks.
“I mean, let’s not carry this to extremes,” Mr. Reid said. “I think this is only an attempt to hurt the bill. And we have in this legislation, which has been negotiated and worked on, we’ve got great security at the border. And it’s going to get better.”
While Mr. Reid warns that he would allow no major changes to the Senate bill, on which his colleagues want a vote by July 4, two conservative Republicans reiterated Sunday that the bill has no chance of passing the House without significant changes.
“What they have in the Senate has zero chance of passing in the House,” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said on “Fox News Sunday.” “So, why not come to a conservative like myself and say, he’s willing to work with you, why not work with me to make the bill closer to what would be acceptable in the House?”
“It doesn’t do anybody any good just to pass in the Senate,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said on the same show.