Though preliminary Senate approval Monday of an immigration reform measure by a 67-27 vote looks impressive, there’s no assurance whatsoever that this bill will become law.
The bill is flawed, perhaps fatally, and it faces even more hostility in the House of Representatives than it’s endured in the Senate.
On the plus side, the measure approved Monday is an amended version of a proposal drafted by the “Gang of Eight,” four Republican and four Democratic senators whose noble goal is bipartisan reform. To their credit, a fair number of Republicans supported the measure.
But some of those Republican votes came at a price that’s simply too high. Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, both Republicans, won support for an amendment to bolster border security that could cost $30 billion. It would add some 20,000 Border Patrol agents (bringing the total to 40,000), erect 700 more miles of fencing and include more than $3 billion in drones and other technology similar to that deployed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s worth noting that the Department of Homeland Security has spent more than $100 billion in manpower and materials in the last five years to boost security on the U.S.- Mexico border. It’s also worth noting that DHS isn’t sure which of its maneuvers has been successful, and that criminal smuggling — and deaths — have increased dramatically in that same period.
Those measures, excessive and, given government spending cutbacks, unrealistic, might attract some House Republicans. But many House Republicans — and probably all of the Tea Party faction — will balk at another measure in the Senate bill that would establish a path to citizenship for approximately 11 million immigrants who are in this country illegally.
Many GOP House members continue to condemn any path to citizenship as “amnesty” and will do whatever they can to kill this bill and any bill that includes it. It’s possible that House Speaker John Boehner, who ought to recognize the importance of immigration reform not just for the country but for the Republican Party, will be able to cobble together a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans, ignoring and incurring the wrath of House Tea Partiers. Such a demonstration of leadership, however, would likely cost him his speakership.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican and a member of the Senate Gang of Eight, knows the difficulties, but he also seems to know the importance of immigration reform. He correctly told reporters that the status quo on immigration “is hurting America, and added, “if nothing passes, then this disaster that we have now… that’s what’s going to stay in place.”
Unfortunately, too many members of his party consider an immigration compromise the real disaster.