The Senate made significant changes to the immigration bill under its consideration Friday that will expand the legislation to more than 1,100 pages and add roughly $50 billion in costs.
Supporters think that, with those changes, the measure will attract broad bipartisan support — maybe more than 70 yes votes — when the bill comes up for a vote next week. Such an outcome would be notable in the usually divided chamber.
“We’re not at 70 yet, but we’re gaining support and this . . . helps a great deal,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the lead negotiators on the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Friday that senators would begin voting Monday evening on a single amendment that scoops up several issues, including plans to spend $30 billion fortifying the U.S.-Mexico border with 20,000 additional border agents and new drone technology. It will also include an agreement on how much eligible immigrants will be required to pay in fines and back taxes before they are able to earn a green card.
“Opposition of a small group is not going to stop this bill from moving forward,” Reid said, as he vowed to complete work on the legislation by next Friday, before the start of the July 4th recess.
But several immigrant advocacy groups warned Friday that they may withdraw support for the bill if they decide that the changes would adversely affect Latino communities along the border or make it too costly for some immigrants to earn U.S. citizenship.
Fernando Garcia, whose group, Border Network for Human Rights, represents small border towns in Texas and New Mexico, said he was especially concerned with plans to double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol.
“We’re going to have one of the most militarized borders in the world,” Garcia said. “In South Korea, they have 40,000 personnel deployed at the border, and we’re either going to be ahead of, or right behind, that. But the difference is that we don’t have a war between nations. This is unreasonable.”
The bipartisan Gang of Eight senators who wrote the bill also agreed Friday to add a provision from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah)that would bar the Social Security Administration from counting taxes paid by illegal immigrants who posted earnings by using fake or stolen Social Security numbers. Also, immigrants seeking a green card would be required to pay five years of federal back taxes, including any employment taxes — Social Security and Medicare — owed by the applicant.
The changes fulfill the wishes of members of both parties who wanted to include some punitive measures for illegal immigrants seeking permanent status.
But Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which represents low-income immigrants, said that in some cases, “People will need to work an additional decade in order to earn back those credits, and this will impact their future benefits and retirements.”
“It may be too high of a price to pay for the 10 or 12 Republican votes we’d get on the other side,” she added.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — an influential proponent of immigration reform — warned that the changes could dampen its support for the legislation.
Bishops plan to meet Monday to review the agreement, according to spokesman Kevin Appleby, who said the deal appears to be “more of the same, with no real consideration for the ramifications for border communities or whether such an unprecedented buildup is even necessary.”
Despite the opposition of outside interest groups, Sens. John Hoeven (N.D.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.), who helped negotiate several of the changes on behalf of their fellow GOP colleagues, were optimistic.
“We worked as hard as we could to be inclusive,” Hoeven said, adding that whatever happens in the Senate, the issue of immigration “still has to go through the House.”
In an emotional exchange with reporters, Corker noted that he had previously failed to reach bipartisan accord with his colleagues on financial regulatory reform and overhauling the auto industry. Immigration has been different, he said.
“This will affect people. This one is real,” Corker said, choking back tears. “It’s real in that people’s lives are going to be changed if we pass this.”
Both of the senators, clearly pleased with a hard week’s worth of work, immediately left the U.S. Capitol after finalizing the deal. Hoeven drove himself to the airport in a black Chevrolet SUV with a North Dakota license plate, while an aide drove Corker away in a silver Range Rover from Tennessee.