More than 20 Republicans joined the GOP members of the Gang of 8 to support the motion to proceed to the immigration bill. Supporting a motion to begin debate isn’t the same as supporting final passage, however. Many GOP Senators have indicated that the bill’s border security provisions need to be strengthened to win their support. TX Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is drafting an amendment that could determine the fate of the Senate bill.
Cornyn’s amendment would make securing the border a “hard trigger” before the path to legal permanent residency were available to current illegal immigrants. In the current legislation, newly legalized immigrants could get permanent legal status, i.e. a green card, ten years after the law is enacted. The bill appropriates additional money for border security and sets targets, but sets no other conditions on the path to citizenship.
Essentially, the Department of Homeland Security could submit a plan to secure the border and then do nothing to implement it for the next decade. The 11 million illegals currently in the country could become citizens13, even though the border remained as porous as it is today.
Although Cornyn’s amendment would still allow illegal immigrants to become legalized residents, it would block a path to citizenship unless the border were secured. Once the border was secured, the path to citizenship would reopen.
“[The amendment] will put us in a position where we can look the American people in the face and say we are going to secure the border,” GOP Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said. “It will be a very, very important amendment.”
In a sense, Cornyn’s amendment simply holds Sen. Rubio and the other Gang members to the promises they made at the beginning of the immigration discussion. The GOP negotiators, especially, promised that the grand compromise would secure the borders and ensure we don’t have an illegal immigration problem again in the future.
Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has called Cornyn’s amendment a “poison pill.” Reid certainly has the ability to block consideration of the amendment if he chooses.
Cornyn’s amendment presents another challenge for the Gang of 8 and supporters of their immigration bill. It sparks a discussion of how weak the border security provisions are in the current legislation. The American public is generally supportive of immigration reform and, even, a path to citizenship. That support, however, is contingent on assurances that we have control of the border. If the Gang succeeds in pushing through its legislation without those assurances, there will be enormous political blowback.
If Reid reverses course and accepts the Cornyn amendment, it will provide cover to lots of Republicans to support the legislation. If he continues to oppose it and blocks it being added to the bill, many Democrats may be forced to oppose the legislation.