WASHINGTON — The Senate last week rejected an early effort to reshape a sweeping immigration reform bill.
Senators killed an amendment that would delay granting provisional legal status to an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants until the southwestern border is secured for six months.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who proposed the amendment, said enforcing immigration rules should come before any undocumented immigrants are put on a path toward citizenship.
“If the American people are being asked to accept a legalization program in exchange for that compassionate approach, they should be assured that the laws are going to be enforced,” Grassley said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argued that the border is being secured but it may take five years to attain the level sought by Grassley. Waiting that long to grant provisional legal status, he said, would leave 11 million undocumented workers in legal limbo.
“So what are we telling those 11 million? If you hide successfully from the police, then maybe five years from now you can stay here and get the right to work and the right to travel?” Schumer said. “This clearly would undo the entire theme and structure of the immigration bill that has such bipartisan support.”
The underlying bill would create a pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country before 2012. It would take a minimum of 13 years to complete and would include paying taxes and fines as well as learning English.
The bill also includes additional funding for border security and requirements on employers to insure that new hires are properly documented.
Debate on the bill is expected to continue for several weeks.
The Senate voted 57-43 to table the Grassley amendment.
Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voted in support of Grassley’s amendment.
Defense bill clears House
The House overwhelmingly approved a $638 billion defense bill following a debate that highlighted contrasting policy views on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and sexual assaults.
The bill cracks down on sexual assaults in the military — imposing a minimum two-year jail term for service members convicted in a military court of rape or sexual assault. Democrats, however, argued unsuccessfully to include additional protections. In particular, they wanted victims of sexual assault to have the option to seek justice through an independent court.
The issue of military sexual assaults intensified after a recent report revealed that there were 26,000 such cases last year.
The Democrat effort failed on a procedural vote, 225-194.
Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voted against it.
The White House has threatened to veto the bill because it would block the Obama administration from spending any funds to transfer detainees held at Guantanamo.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., proposed an amendment to reverse that policy and allow the prison to close.
“The prospect of warehousing 166 people forever is contrary to our values,” Smith said.
Smith also argued that maintaining the prison is expensive and serves only to fuel hatred against the United States.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said that the detainees if brought to the mainland would pose a national security threat to any nearby schools, shopping malls or other gathering places.
“We may not be able to stop every terrorist from reaching our soil but we can stop these terrorists from reaching our soil,” Forbes said.
The amendment was defeated 249-174.
Cotton, Crawford, Griffin and Womack voted to keep detainees in Guantanamo.