* Senators confident of passage next week
* Further amendments still possible
* Faces challenge in Republican-led House
By Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, June 21 A landmark immigration bill
appears headed toward passage next week in the U.S. Senate,
where a test vote is set for Monday on a border-security deal
designed to bolster Republican support.
The Democratic-led Senate is expected to pass the White
House-backed bill and send it to the Republican-led House of
Representatives, where it faces more resistance, especially over
a provision that would provide a pathway to citizenship for up
to 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Clearly confident of the outcome, Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid said on Friday, "Next week we're going to add
immigration as another example on how we get things done" in the
Senate with bipartisan collaboration.
Earlier this year, the Senate passed major bills on farm
policy and stopping violence against women with bipartisan
votes. These were rare bright spots after years in which
Congress has been hamstrung by the inability of Democrats and
Republicans to work together.
Reid scheduled Monday's vote after negotiators finished
writing the border-security deal into the form of an amendment.
That amendment would double the number of federal agents on
the U.S.-Mexican border to about 40,000 and provide more
high-tech surveillance equipment, including manned and unmanned
Monday's vote, if successful, would clear procedural
roadblocks that opponents otherwise could use to delay passage
of both the amendment and the overall bill.
Reid hailed the accord, saying it "would put to rest any
remaining critical concerns about border security," which had
been a major stumbling block.
Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner raised worries
about the fate of the immigration bill when he said he will not
bring any measure to the floor of his chamber unless it has the
support of most of his fellow Republicans.
The Senate will need 60 votes to move the border security
amendment to passage. That amendment is seen as the last major
step toward building a solid majority in support of a bill that
also would update the U.S. visa system and achieve the broadest
immigration reforms since 1986.
The border amendment, written mainly by Republican Senators
John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee, was
packed with a number of other changes to the bill.
They ranged from dealing with benefit eligibility for newly
legalized immigrants to verification that employers do not hire
Significantly, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah
announced his support for the Hoeven-Corker measure after two of
his amendments were tucked into it.
One would guard against those ineligible to work in the
United States from drawing Social Security benefits while the
other would prohibit welfare funds to any immigrant until he or
she becomes a U.S. citizen.
"I've been clear that for any immigration reform legislation
to be successful it needs to be fair to both American taxpayers
and those wanting to become U.S. citizens," Hatch said in a
SENATE BATTLE WINDING DOWN
Democratic and Republican aides said the Senate battle over
the immigration bill is essentially over since the Hoeven-Corker
amendment is almost certain to be approved.
Up to 70 of the Senate's 100 members are expected to vote
for the overall bill, including all 52 Democrats, both
independents and as many as 16 of 46 Republicans, aides for both
Once the border security amendment is dealt with, the Senate
still could debate a few other proposals for changing the bill.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is
teaming up with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to
try to expand the number of children of illegal immigrants who
would be eligible for quicker citizenship under the bill.
Currently, the bill provides a five-year path to citizenship
for such children, as opposed to 13 years for other illegal
immigrants, but only if they are old enough to attend college or
serve in the U.S. military.
Blumenthal wants to include younger children who meet other
requirements of the bill, but he acknowledged it will be
Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio is pushing for
another amendment to further strengthen an "E-Verify" program
designed to help businesses hire only legally documented
Portman wants to insert new protections for businesses that
try to comply with the program and to beef up the security
measures that help identify job applicants.