Immigration bill clears early test vote; Obama calls for action

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 11, 2013 6:29pm EDT

1 of 2. U.S. President Barack Obama is introduced by Tolu Olubunmi to speak in support of the U.S. Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill while in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday to begin debate and amendments on a historic immigration bill, burying a procedural roadblock that opponents regularly use to delay or even kill legislation.

With November's election results indicating broad support for updating the country's immigration laws, even some senators who have expressed opposition to the Senate bill voted to allow the debate to go ahead.

By a vote of 82-15, the Senate cleared the way for the long-anticipated debate that could extend through June.

Opponents of the bill quickly offered amendments to significantly change or possibly kill the measure if adopted.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa introduced a plan requiring the Obama administration to certify "effective control over the entire southern border" for a period of six months before any of the 11 million undocumented residents in the United States could begin applying for legal status.

"Border security first, legalize second," Grassley said.

Other Republican senators are pushing similar proposals.

The legalization and ultimate citizenship for the 11 million is a central component of the bill. Democrats and some Republicans have vowed to block any measure that leaves their fate in doubt indefinitely.

Earlier on Tuesday, President Barack Obama sought to inject momentum into the push for U.S. immigration reform.

"If you genuinely believe we need to fix our broken immigration system, there's no good reason to stand in the way of this bill," Obama said at the White House just hours before the Senate staged its first vote on the measure.

"If you're serious about actually fixing the system, then this is the vehicle to do it," he said.

Obama, who won re-election last year thanks in part to strong support from Latino voters, has made immigration reform a top priority of his second term.

He had not given a major public address on the issue for some time, reflecting a White House strategy of not wanting to get in the way of the bipartisan bill's progress in the Senate.

Obama's speech on Tuesday was the first major departure from that strategy.

The Senate bill would authorize billions of dollars in new spending for enhanced border security and create new visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers in addition to providing a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants - many from Mexico and Central America - currently in the country.

As Congress plunged into a contentious debate on the bill, freshman Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Democrat, delivered a Senate speech in support of the bill in Spanish.

Senate officials said it was the first time in at least decades that a floor speech was spoken entirely in a language other than English.

MAJOR CHANGES AHEAD?

The bill, which has broad support from Obama's Democrats, will need backing from some Republicans in order to give it momentum in the more conservative, Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where the pathway to citizenship provisions face deeper skepticism.

Four Republicans joined with four Democrats in writing the Senate bill earlier this year.

In a sign of the hurdles to come, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said he expected immigration reform to be law by the end of the year. But he said the Senate measures to enforce the changes and secure the U.S. border with Mexico were inadequate.

And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky warned in a speech in the Senate: "In days ahead there will be major changes in this bill if it is to become law."

Immigrant groups fear that too many changes could erode a delicate coalition now pushing the bill.

Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, told ABC television in an interview that aired on Tuesday: "I've got real concerns about the Senate bill, especially in the area of border security and internal enforcement of the system. I'm concerned that it doesn't go far enough."

Boehner added that reforming the nation's immigration system was his top legislative priority this year.

"I think by the end of the year we could have a bill," he told ABC. Asked if that bill would be one to also pass the Democrat-led Senate and be signed into law by Obama, Boehner said: "No question."

(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal, Roberta Rampton, and Susan Heavey; Editing by Paul Simao and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (51)
lucky12345 wrote:
The scariest part of PRISM is the utter lack of due process… We see in this administration, again and again, a complete disregard for our Constitutional right of due process – in the IRS case, the AP and Rosen cases we witness the absence of any non-government lawyers presence at the FISA/FISC hearings; in the case of drone strikes, we see the President assuming a unilateral role of judge, jury and executioner… Our 4th Amendment privacy rights have been trampled, clearly, but let us not forget about our 1th, 6th and 7th Amendment due process rights as well.

“When governments fear the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny.” — Thomas Jefferson

Jun 11, 2013 6:36am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Dude7579 wrote:
If we overlook law-breaking not just in occasional individual cases, but systematically and on a large scale, we undermine respect for the rule of law.

If the IRS announced that anyone who has failed to file a tax return for some years can for a stated period of time file without facing charges for breaking the tax laws, that would be amnesty. But what if the IRS were to say that the delinquent taxpayer also need not pay the back taxes he or she owes? That would be a very different matter; an amnesty doesn¹t mean that you can keep what you stole, it only means that you won’t be prosecuted for having stolen it.

Now let’s go one step further: suppose that the IRS were not only to let tax delinquents keep their loot, but also offer them a large reward for coming forward. That would be moral hazard with a vengeance, because now breaking the law would be more attractive than obeying it.

But that is essentially what the gang-of-eight’s bill does. In addition to amnesty (not being prosecuted for breaking the law), it allows illegal immigrants to keep what they stole (residency) and even to get a substantial reward into the bargain (state welfare benefits, and a path to citizenship).

Jun 11, 2013 8:32am EDT  --  Report as abuse
actnow wrote:
Keep those passionate calls steadily flowing to the Capital Switchboard (202 224-3121). This is the most effective way to assure immigration policies that protect American citizens interests too. The current Senate bill is primarily about mass give aways that undermine our democracy, the rule of law, our workers, our tax payers, schools, hospitals, and Medicare/Medicade; with only vague language with what MIGHT be done to enforce our existing laws and secure our boarder. Your calls do matter….please keep this number in your cell and call frequently…pass it on. Its up to all of us to act…not just talk. Everything hangs in the balance.

Jun 11, 2013 9:56am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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