Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee said Monday that while he thinks the “Group of Eight” immigration reform proposal is a step in the right direction, he can’t support it.
“Despite the often divisive rhetoric surrounding immigration reform, initial discussions have revealed much common ground between Republicans and Democrats,” Lee said in a statement. “We all support enhanced border security, stronger visa enforcement, effective employment verification measures, and humane treatment of those lacking legal status. I believe the overwhelming majority of Congress could work together to enact significant and lasting reforms, particularly to strengthen border security and fix our legal immigration system.”
“I remain greatly supportive of what the group aims to accomplish and will continue to work with my colleagues to solve many of the challenges this important issue presents,” Lee continued. “Although I am encouraged by the process and continue to support efforts to make real progress on immigration reform, I am not able to sign the Statement of Principles released today.”
The eight senators–GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of Arizona, along with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Chuck Schumer of New York, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Bob Menendez of New Jersey–rolled out their plan on Monday. President Barack Obama is expected to unveil his own plan on Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada; today’s announcment could be interpreted as these senators upstaging the president on a political hot-button issue.
According to a report earlier on Monday, the plan includes border security improvement measures and a “path to citizenship” for 11 million illegal immigrants currently inside the United States.
Lee, a conservative leader and Tea Party favorite, said he can’t support the deal because “these guidelines contemplate a policy that will grant special benefits to illegal immigrants based on their unlawful presence in the country. Reforms to our complex and dysfunctional immigration system should not in any way favor those who came here illegally over the millions of applicants who seek to come here lawfully.”
“Additionally, the framework carves out a special exception for agricultural workers that has little justification,” Lee said. “Maintaining the safety of America’s food supply is an important goal, but it is unclear why immigrants in this sector should achieve special status over skilled workers in industries equally important to the American economy.”
Lee’s opposition to the plan may prove to be an obstacle for Senate leaders trying to push it through, as many conservatives tend to follow his lead. It’s unclear as of yet where other conservatives in the Senate stand on the issue.
Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions has indicated he won’t support the deal either.
“Americans overwhelmingly oppose illegal immigration,” Sessions said in a statement. “They have pleaded with Congress to end the mass illegality for decades to little avail. All the while, millions have been added to the total of those illegally here.”
It’s time to fix that broken system. Now we are told that the Obama Administration and members of Congress say they have a plan that they promise will do the job. So, the American people will need to watch closely. And, members of Congress must insist that they have a full and complete opportunity to study and amend such legislation. We would be in a much better position to achieve immigration reform if the Obama Administration had spent that last four years enforcing federal law rather than dismantling it. Brave immigration agents have been left with no recourse but to sue their own Department head, simply so that they–like any other law officers–will be allowed to do their jobs.
Sessions said he thinks that “no comprehensive plan can pass Congress as long as this administration continues to defy existing federal law. What good are promises of future enforcement when the Administration covertly undermines those laws now in place?”
“Yet, without consulting the law officers who have the duty to enforce the law, another group of senators, meeting in secret–just like the last time comprehensive reform failed–have set forth an outline with no legislative language,” Sessions said. “We have seen too often before that the promises made by bill sponsors do not match up to the reality when the language is produced. No secret accord with profound consequences for this nation’s future can be rushed through. That means a full committee process and debate and amendments on the floor of the Senate.”