Sen. Marco Rubio’s office circulated a list this month of ways to toughen security in the immigration bill he helped negotiate, including potential amendments to cut down on chain migration, to require newly legal immigrants to show financial self-sufficiency and to build 700 miles of double-tier fencing along the border.
The list, which was obtained by The Washington Times and confirmed by Mr. Rubio’s office, is titled “Amendment ideas to improve S. 744,” in reference to the designated number of the Senate bill. It suggests that Mr. Rubio is looking for ways to alter the immigration deal before a final Senate vote, expected sometime this summer.
Mr. Rubio’s spokesman said the list was drafted by senior aide Alberto Martinez and was shared with some offices of senators who were interested in changing the bill. The list appears to be a debate that lays out problems some critics have raised and amendments that could be made to allay those concerns.
In one section Mr. Rubio’s aide wrote: “CONCERN: Illegal immigrants get legalized once and for all in exchange for DHS to simply submit a border fencing and security plans.” He followed that up with: “SOLUTION: An amendment to ensure that RPI renewals at the six year mark do not happen until the fencing and security plans are substantially completed, as opposed to simply submitted.”
Mr. Rubio was one of the “Gang of Eight” senators who wrote the 867-page immigration bill, which legalizes illegal immigrants but withholds full citizenship rights until after the Homeland Security Department spends more on border security, establishes an entry-exit tracking system for visitors to the country and creates a nationwide electronic verification system for employers to check workers’ status.
As a Florida Republican of Cuban ancestry and a rising star in the Republican Party, Mr. Rubio is considered the linchpin of the immigration deal. He has been trying to persuade conservatives to embrace the bill and said he is comfortable with it as written but also is open to amendments to bolster security if it will help build confidence among voters.
“Sen. Rubio has said many times that the legislation introduced last month was just a starting point and that it would be improved through the amendment process,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for Mr. Rubio. “Sen. Rubio is listening to constructive criticisms of the legislation, and welcomes suggestions to improve it. Some of the concerns on this list are being addressed by the committee, and we hope to address others with amendments on the Senate floor.”
The amendment list is dated May 2, which was a week before the Judiciary Committee began voting on amendments.
Among the list of 21 concerns in Mr. Rubio’s list are that the newly legalized immigrants can get on the path to citizenship even if lawmakers don’t deem the border fully secure; that the bill won’t stop newly legalized immigrants from getting tax credits; and that the bar for criminal activity is too high because it allows illegal immigrants up to three misdemeanors before they are disqualified.
Several of the potential amendments appear to respond to concerns raised by Christopher Crane, the head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, which is the labor union that represents ICE agents and officers. Mr. Crane met with Mr. Rubio in the days just before the legislation was introduced.
Some of the concerns raised in the list have been debated in the Judiciary Committee, which is working through hundreds of amendments to the bill.
Mr. Rubio does not sit on that committee, though four other members of the Gang of Eight do.
The committee approved one amendment on Mr. Rubio’s list that sets a southern border goal of 90 percent efficiency in stopping illegal immigration, but rejected another potential amendment on the list that would have required at least 700 miles of double-tier fencing along the nearly 2,000-mile-long southern border.
“Whatever really works never gets passed. It’s only things that partially work or don’t work that get passed around here,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who called for building 700 miles of fencing.
The requirement for 700 miles of fencing was in a law Congress enacted in 2006, but watered down a year later.
All told, the Judiciary Committee has considered 60 amendments, though it has shied away from making major changes to the bill.
On Thursday, the Gang of Eight saw a major test over amendments designed to protect American workers from competition from foreigners who obtain high-tech worker visas.
Several Democrats said they would like to vote for the amendments, but were told by Gang of Eight senators that doing so would be a “deal-killer” to the bill.
The committee also defeated an amendment that would have required the entry-exit visa system to be based on biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints or an iris scan, rather than just a photograph.
Senators who voted against the amendment said it was too costly and that neither Congress nor successive administrations had shown the political will to follow through on it.
But Mr. Rubio said through his spokesman that he wanted to see that amendment pass, and his amendment list includes expanding the entry-exit system to land ports of entry — something lacking in the bill itself.