Senate rejects Thune amendment requiring 350 miles of border fencing

The Senate voted 39-54 on Tuesday to reject an amendment to the immigration reform bill that would have required 350 miles of new fencing on the Southern border before the federal government could grant provisional legal status to immigrants.

The amendment from Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneInspector general investigating FCC leaks Air traffic control plan faces tough fight ahead GOP blasts Obama for slow economic growth MORE (R-S.D.) would have prevented the government from granting provisional immigrant status until the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has built 350 miles of Southern border fencing. Another 350 miles of fencing would have to be constructed before those with provisional legal status could apply for a green card.

Thune's amendment needed 60 votes to pass. Republican Gang of Eight Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump on Jeb: 'I will not say he's low energy' WATCH LIVE: Trump speaks at Nebraska rally Trump ridicules Graham for not supporting him MORE (S.C.), John McCainJohn McCainKirk: Trump ‘a net benefit’ for me in Illinois Trump aide: Ryan not fit to be Speaker if he doesn't support Trump Missouri Republican: Trump has not earned my vote MORE (Ariz.), Marco RubioMarco RubioTrump on Jeb: 'I will not say he's low energy' Trump on Ryan snub: 'It doesn’t bother me at all’ How Trump did it MORE (Fla.) and Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeMany Republicans uninterested in being Trump’s VP: report Senate confirms Obama's long-stalled ambassador to Mexico McCain fundraiser faces felony drug charges in Arizona MORE (Ariz.) voted against the border fence amendment, while Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Healthcare: Public support mounts for action on opioids Clinton slams convicted ex-coal chief West Virginia Dem defends Clinton support despite coal remarks MORE (W.Va.) and Mark PryorMark PryorEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood Ex-Sen. Landrieu joins law and lobby firm MORE (Ark.) voted for it. Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiActivists target Google employees over GOP convention plans The Hill's 12:30 Report Bishop eyes new Puerto Rico bill after recess MORE (R-Alaska) also voted against Thune's amendment.

Thune said his amendment was necessary because the current bill only makes “promises” of enforcement. He said building 350 miles of fence would be a “tangible trigger” to show the Senate is serious about border security before legalization.

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“Every time the Senate considers immigration reform promises of a more secure border are never upheld, and this bill continues to repeat those past mistakes,” Thune said ahead of the vote. “Some people have said this fence is ‘old-school’ ... but there is an infrastructure role to be played in this.”

The Senate is considering the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, and amendment work on the bill is expected to continue throughout June. Three more amendment votes were scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

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.

McCain, a Gang of Eight member, said his colleagues who are so concerned about border security should listen to those on the ground.

“I hope that my colleagues that are concerned about border security, that they will pay attention to what the head of border security is asking for,” McCain said, while urging a "no" vote on Thune’s amendment. “Fencing is important — surveillance is more important.”

Some Republicans have complained that the legislation would provide amnesty in 10 to 13 years for the nearly 11 million illegal residents before strengthening border enforcement. 

“Border security is what the people demand,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe Trail 2016: GOP stages of grief Grassley: Trump would pick 'right type' of Supreme Court justice Advocacy group seeks probe into DOD statements on sexual assault MORE (R-Iowa) said Tuesday. “This bill has weak border security provisions.”

Supporters of the Gang of Eight bill say it includes an additional $6.5 billion for border enforcement measures, but most of the funding is for new technology such as drones, sensors, cameras and helicopters, as opposed to more fencing.

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (D-La.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security, called Thune’s fence “dumb” during debate last week.

“I will vote against Sen. Thune’s amendment because I am not going to waste taxpayer money on a dumb fence, and that is what his fence would be,” Landrieu said. “We need to build a smart fence.”

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