By Alexander Bolton - 07/29/14 02:55 PM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that if the House passes a $659 million border bill with policy changes, he could use it as a vehicle for comprehensive immigration reform.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is trying to round up enough votes for a pared-down border bill that spends far below the president’s request for $3.7 billion and includes policy changes to speed the deportation of illegal minors from Central America.
“If they pass that, maybe it’s an opening for us to have a conference on our comprehensive immigration reform. If they’re finally sending us something on immigration, maybe we can do that,” Reid told reporters after a lunch meeting with his caucus.
“We’ve been looking for something to do a conference on. Maybe we can do it with that,” Reid said.
Reid’s statement delivers a blow to Boehner’s efforts to persuade conservatives in his conference to vote for the bill.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) met with more than 20 House conservatives last week to warn them that passing legislation addressing the Texas border crisis could come back to haunt them. He said Reid would likely either bury the bill in the Senate or overhaul it and potentially use it as a vehicle to pass elements of the Senate’s comprehensive reform.
The House has not taken any floor action on immigration reform legislation this year. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an outspoken opponent of granting legal status to illegal immigrants, has warned any bill could be used as a vehicle for creating a pathway to citizenship for millions of them.
The pending House border bill includes changes to a 2008 trafficking victims protection law that would allow immigration authorities to speed the deportation of children seeking asylum from Central America.
It would deploy National Guard troops to the southern border and increase funding for immigration judges to shorten the timeline for processing unaccompanied minors from noncontiguous countries.
The Republican co-authors of the 2013 Senate immigration bill rebutted Reid’s comments Tuesday evening and accused him of trying to blow up House legislation that would limit the legal rights of unaccompanied immigrant children.
“It is obvious that Majority Leader Reid’s suggestion that the Senate could include comprehensive immigration reform in its border crisis bill is a blatant attempt to scuttle House Republicans’ good-faith efforts to pass legislation addressing the issue this week,” Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) said in a joint statement.
The four Republican members of the Gang of Eight, which hammered out the framework of the comprehensive bill, pledged to oppose any effort by Reid to attach it to pending border legislation.
“Without our support – which he would not have – it would be impossible for Leader Reid to add comprehensive immigration reform or the DREAM Act to any border crisis bill this week,” they wrote.
The DREAM Act would grant legal status to children who came to the country illegally at a young age and have remained as residents in good standing.