Senate votes 54-43 to reject Cornyn plan for border security 'trigger'

The Senate on Thursday rejected Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) immigration reform bill amendment that would have put mandatory border security triggers in place before immigrants were given legal status.

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The Senate voted 54-43 to table the amendment, which was seen as crucial to get more Republican support for the legislation. But Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) are expected to release an alternative border security enforcement amendment later Thursday.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) split with his fellow GOP Gang of Eight members by voting against tabling Cornyn's amendment, while Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) voted to kill Cornyn's amendment. 

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also voted to table the amendment. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) voted in support of considering Cornyn's amendment.

Cornyn’s "Results" amendment would have required that the border enforcement standards in the underlying Gang of Eight bill be met before anyone could be granted permanent legal status.

“My amendment is designed to turn border security rhetoric into reality. More specifically it would have a trigger,” Cornyn said ahead of the vote Thursday. 

“The difference between my amendment and their bill is that their bill promises the sun and the moon when it comes to border security but it has no trigger mechanism.”

The Senate bill under consideration sets the goals of 100 percent border-monitoring capabilities and a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal entrants along the Southern border, but does not require the Department of Homeland Security to have them in place before granting permanent legal residency. Cornyn’s amendment would have made those goals mandatory. 

“My amendment realigns all of the incentives for people across the political spectrum to make sure that the federal government and bureaucracies keep their commitment,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn’s amendment also would have required the DHS to have a biometric entry-exit system fully operational before anyone is given legal status.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) criticized Cornyn's amendment for being "unrealistic," and said it would delay the path to citizenship for years. Leahy added that most of the amendment was "bad" because it would increase the cost of the bill by billions of dollars.

The Senate is considering the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hoped the vote to table Cornyn’s amendment would help produce an agreement to vote on more amendments Thursday. He has also said he wants work completed on the bill by the July 4 recess, even if that means weekend votes.

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 13 years for the nearly 11 million illegal residents before strengthening border enforcement. Several GOP amendments on border security enforcement have been defeated.

On Wednesday, the Senate tabled an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would have required Congress to vote on border security measures before legal status was granted.

More than 200 amendments have been files, but only 12 have been considered.