Leahy: GOP calls for costly border security, yet in 'cruel irony' slashes safety net

The Senate is considering the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act until the end of the month.

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The bipartisan group of eight senators known as the Gang of Eight introduced S. 744, which would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, toughen border security, create a guest-worker program and boost high-skilled immigration.

Republicans have complained that the legislation would provide amnesty in 10-13 years for the nearly 11 million residents without legal status before strengthening border enforcement. 

Several Republican senators have introduced amendments to increase border security measures, which could increase the cost of the bill. The Gang of Eight bill already includes $6.5 billion for border security. 

Other GOP amendments, including some from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would ban immigrants with provisional legal status from accessing federal benefits such as food stamps and healthcare. Leahy said he would oppose those amendments.

“When it comes to border security, spend whatever it takes,” Leahy said. “However, if we’re talking about programs that literally feed the hungry or vaccinate children ... then we hear lectures about how we cannot afford those programs in the current fiscal problems.”

Leahy pointed out that the way the bill is currently written, immigrants applying for legal status would have to wait 13-15 years for any safety net protections. He added that he thought it was “wrong to deny them the protections they may need,” especially because the immigrants with provisional status will be paying taxes. Leahy said the goal of the bill is to get undocumented people to come out of the shadows.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants the Senate to complete work on the immigration bill before the July 4 recess.