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Blunt opposes border-security deal as key vote looms Monday on immigration bill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 21, 2013 - WASHINGTON – 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 won’t support what is being called the “border surge” deal.

That plan includes a new agreement, worked out late this week by U.S. Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that would mandate, over 10 years, the construction of 700 miles of border fencing; require about $3 billion in new technology for border security; and the hiring of 20,000 additional border control agents.

But Blunt, R-Mo., said Friday that he was “concerned this amendment doesn't adequately put border security first, which must be our top priority. As I've repeatedly said, I can't support a final bill that does not first and foremost secure our border.”

In a statement provided to the Beacon, Blunt said 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.”

On Thursday, the Senate tabled, in a 54-43 vote, a Blunt-backed amendment by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, 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 new waves of illegal immigrants.

Blunt and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., voted with Cornyn. U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., voted to kill the amendment.

That vote – short of the 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof majority – led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other backers of the immigration bill to accommodate the border security provisions negotiated by Hoeven and Corker into a wider amendment that will be voted on Monday afternoon.

Reid, Durbin and other backers of the overall Senate immigration reform bill hope to win at least 60 – and perhaps more than 70 – votes in support of their legislation. It would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., toughen aspects of border security, boost high-skilled immigration and establish a guest-worker program.

In the current bill, negotiated by a Gang of Eight senators including Durbin and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an “E-Verify system” and an entry-exit system at U.S. airports and sea ports would have to be in place before any undocumented immigrants are granted a green card for permanent residency.

Kirk said last week that he would likely support the overall immigration bill if the Hoeven-Corker “border surge” provisions are added to it. Both Durbin and McCaskill also are likely to back the final bill.

But Blunt said Friday that the new border “surge” isn’t enough for him. He added that he is “increasingly concerned the administration objects to metrics on border security, even though they admit 100 percent awareness is, in fact, possible.”

Even if the Senate passes its immigration bill by its Fourth of July break – as Reid has vowed to do – the legislation is likely to hit roadblocks in the Republican- controlled House.

House GOP leaders, while conceding the need for some sort of reform of the nation’s immigrations laws, have criticized the Senate bill. This week, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, vowed not to bring immigration legislation to a House vote unless it is backed by a majority of Republican lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee and other panels have been working on various immigration bills and focusing on border security. Senate Democrats have said that they would block any compromise bill that did not include path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally.

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