WASHINGTON -- The Senate immigration bill will be fed through the grinder Thursday when scores of amendments, from adding rights for gay couples to even more border security, are considered. It’s a crucial start to a process Sen. Marco Rubio and the rest of the Gang of 8 hope will lead to broad support for immigration reform in the full Senate.
But a bigger challenge looms in the Republican-controlled House. Look no further than Florida’s GOP delegation, Rubio admirers who are reluctant to embrace a comprehensive approach or flatly oppose some provisions.
“I’m definitely not for a path to citizenship. It’s breaking the law and we’re rewarding it,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, adding he could support other reforms.
Rep. Trey Radel of Fort Myers said he appreciates the Senate’s bipartisan approach, but referring to the authors, he added, “I am concerned by the way the Gang of 8 is attempting to hand out citizenship like it’s a gift they can pick and choose. Before we talk about a path to anything, I am looking for a commitment to a safe and secure border.”
Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Garden said he’s concerned about provisions that would legalize about 11 million people and allow them to gain citizenship through fines and by waiting up to 13 years. “I’m thinking that through. There are people in their country who are being leapfrogged if we do that.”
Webster said he favors a piecemeal approach over the Senate’s all-in-one bill, which ran 844 pages when introduced April 17. “We’ve already seen what Obamacare did. You write a bill, you’ve got all these rules, regulations and it’s not even able to fulfill half the promises it made. Let’s do every piece right.”
The responses from one of the country’s largest House delegations (17 of the 27 Florida representatives are Republican; the Democrats are supportive of reform) show the challenges that await if the Senate bill passes.
“People have mixed opinions because they’re still not focused on the issue and because of the history that comes with it,” Rubio said in an interview. “But the vast majority of Republicans and conservatives understand that we can’t leave in place what we have now. They are prepared to address the 11 million that are here illegally. The only thing they ask, as a condition of all that, is that we make sure this never ever happens again. And that’s what we have to work toward.”
Rubio, who is fighting conservative opposition and recently said his bill could not pass the House, is supporting amendments that would better ensure border security measures happen before people are set on a path to citizenship.
More than 300 amendments have been offered and it could take a couple weeks for the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote them up or down. One from Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the committee, would allow gay and lesbian citizens to petition for U.S. residency for their partners, which heterosexuals can currently do.
“It will kill the bill,” Rubio said, predicting the loss of Republican support and a break up of a coalition that includes Evangelical leaders who are pressing GOP lawmakers to support the bill.
Rubio got a boost Wednesday with a report from the Social Security Administration that said the bill would have a positive economic effect. Over the next decade, the bill would create 3.22 million jobs and increase GDP by 1.63 percent, according to the analysis. With many immigrants currently working under the table, making them legal taxpayers would help strengthen Social Security, the report said.