This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – In a key test for immigration reform legislation, the U.S. Senate on Monday cleared the way for a vote on a compromise “border surge” amendment by a convincing majority of 67 to 27 -- setting the stage for likely approval of the entire bill on Friday.
Three of the four senators from Missouri and Illinois voted to limit debate and move to a vote later this week on a measure that includes a new deal to strengthen border security by doubling the number of border agents, completing 700 miles of fencing, and mandating more than $4 billion in new technology for border security.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was among the no votes. In a statement afterward, Blunt said he “voted against proceeding to this amendment because I am concerned this amendment doesn't adequately put border security first, which must be our top priority.”
Voting in favor of proceeding to the “border surge” amendment were U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill. Durbin was one of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators who developed the underlying immigration legislation.
“A secure border and a path to citizenship are good for Illinois’ economy and good for Illinois jobs, and I look forward to supporting its final passage in the coming days,” Kirk said after the vote.
During Monday's debate, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who developed the new border security package with U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., urged fellow Republicans to “join me in putting in place the toughest border security measures we've ever had in this nation."
But opponents of their amendment, led by U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, contended that the $30 billion “border surge” approach featured costly “gimmickry” that had been worked out behind closed doors and would take a decade to implement.
The Senate vote came a few hours after President Barack Obama pushed for the immigration legislation at the White House with a group of business leaders who support its passage.
“I hope we can get the strongest possible vote out of the Senate so that we can then move to the House and get this done before the summer break,” said Obama.
The president argued that the immigration overhaul “would reduce our deficits” because undocumented immigrants “would be paying taxes. It would end up strengthening our economy, growing our economy.”
In tandem with that meeting, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – which has opposed many of Obama’s initiatives – said it would pay for an advertising campaign in support of the immigration overhaul. The ads urge voters to contact lawmakers and urge them to “create jobs and economic growth by supporting conservative immigration reforms.”
With Monday’s vote staving off a possible filibuster on a key provision, Senate Democratic leaders said they expected a vote on final passage of the immigration overhaul bill on Friday.
The bill would establish a path to citizenship to many of the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in this country without proper documents; strengthen border security with numerous provisions; and establish new visa programs that would allow tens of thousands of both highly trained and low-skilled workers into the country.
In his statement after the vote, Blunt repeated his comment on Friday that he was "very disappointed the Senate rejected several key border security amendments that I co-sponsored, and thus far, the Senate bill still fails to address this critical challenge."
Last week, the Senate tabled a Blunt-backed amendment by Cornyn that would have linked the initial steps in a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to border-security “triggers” indicating significant progress in securing the U.S.-Mexican border from illegal immigrants.
Even if – as now appears likely – the revised immigration overhaul is approved by the Senate, it faces a difficult path in the U.S. House. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he won’t bring a bill to a full House vote unless it has majority GOP support. But he and other House leaders face tremendous political pressure to act.
On Sunday, a key sponsor of the Senate immigration bill, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., predicted that Boehner will have “no choice” other than to allow an eventual vote on immigration reform.
“I could envision in the late summer or early fall ... a million people on the mall in Washington,” demanding action on immigration, Schumer said.
Previous articles by Robert Koenig, Washington correspondent
Top Senate Democrats say they have enough GOP support to win a key test vote Monday on immigration reform, but U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said Friday that he does not support a “border surge” deal because it "doesn't adequately put border security first."
The Senate's long-anticipated debate on immigration reform began this week with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin calling on proponents to rally around the "Group of Eight" plan, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt saying he had "serious concerns" related to border security, and the White House stepping up the public pressure to alter immigration laws.
With the U.S. Senate moving toward a big vote in June and the House developing an alternative plan, the fate of immigration reform – a major goal of the White House – may hinge partly on the debate over its costs and benefits to the U.S. economy.
After months of negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin released details Tuesday of a compromise bill to revamp the nation’s immigration system and pave a 13-year citizenship pathway for millions who are living in this country without legal documents.