Immigration reform hinges on Rubio proposals for border security

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio: Kaepernick deserves to be in the NFL Congress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer Anti-Maduro Venezuelans not unlike anti-Castro Cubans of yore MORE (R-Fla.) is the make-or-break player for immigration reform as the Senate on Tuesday begins voting to overhaul what is widely viewed as a broken system. [WATCH VIDEO]

Confidence among Democrats that the 1,000-page bill will pass the upper chamber was shaken last week when Rubio said he would not vote for it without changes to border security language — even though he negotiated the original draft.

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Rubio and other Republicans say the bill will pass or fail depending on whether Democrats agree to amendments to strengthen border security and other enforcement provisions.

Senate sources say Rubio, a member of the Gang of Eight, is working on amendments to bolster border security apart from a border-security package drafted by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynPressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure MORE (R-Texas).

Pro-immigrant activists were alarmed when they heard that Rubio was meeting with Cornyn about border security but their concerns were quelled when Rubio signaled he would have his own package.


“It was very disturbing when he was flirting with Sen. Cornyn on that amendment,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director at America’s Voice, a liberal group that supports the Senate bill.

Democrats say Cornyn’s proposals are akin to a roadblock on the path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. They would require the Department of Homeland Security to achieve full situational awareness of the entire U.S.-Mexico border and complete operational control — defined as a 90-percent apprehension rate of illegal border crossers — of every border sector.

A Democratic aide called the package a collection of Republican amendments that the Judiciary Committee — including two Republican members of the Gang of Eight — rejected last month.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Trump to press GOP on changing Senate rules MORE (D-Nev.) predicted at the end of May that it would be easy to round up 60 votes to pass immigration reform. The Senate will vote to proceed to the bill on Tuesday and Reid has set aside three weeks for debate.

Democrats are confident they will suffer only one, two or maybe three defections in their caucus but they are less certain about how much support will emerge from the Senate Republican conference.

“He may be right, I haven’t whipped the Republican side of the aisle,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThis week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions Dem lawmaker spars with own party over prison reform MORE (D-Ill.), when asked about Rubio’s claim that the bill cannot pass without changes to border security language.

Supporters of the bill took it as a bad sign when the House voted last week to defund President Obama’s order to defer the deportation of illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to the country at a young age.

Republican senators were slow to embrace the Senate bill during a discussion of it in the Republican Steering Committee Wednesday.

“There’s widespread skepticism in the conference,” said a Republican senator who attended.

The principle concern of many Republican lawmakers is the bill will grant provisional legal status before securing the nation’s borders and that the Obama administration or a future administration will have too much discretion in determining whether border-security goals have been met.

Rubio has the key role of convincing Republicans that the 2013 immigration reform effort is not a repeat of the 1986 bill than many conservatives now view as an “amnesty” that failed to stop illegal immigration flows.

“They recruited him specifically to be Schumer’s front man because he’s got credibility with conservatives, he can present the issue in Spanish and has some recent immigrant family history. If he walks away from the bill, it disappears,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and an opponent of the Senate bill.

Krikorian said Rubio’s criticisms of the legislation are carefully scripted political theater. He predicts Democrats will accept a Rubio-sponsored proposal to make relatively modest changes to strengthen enforcement provisions and limit federal benefits for immigrants and that will he touted as a rationale for Republicans to vote yes on final passage.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' Free traders applaud Trump as China tariff threat recedes The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ MORE (D-N.Y.), who has kept in daily contact with Rubio, has remained sanguine about the Florida senator's frequent statements calling for improvements to the Senate bill.

Senate aides say Schumer recognizes that Rubio has to keep his distance publicly to maintain credibility with the GOP’s conservative base. They say Rubio has voiced stronger support for the legislation in private meetings.

Rubio’s staff says he is working with Republican colleagues to craft proposals to strengthen the legislation but won’t say what he will offer on the floor. 

 “We are continuing to talk with other Senate offices, so it’s premature to discuss specific amendments that Sen. Rubio may be offering or supporting,” said Rubio’s spokesman, Alex Conant.

Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDOJ, Trump reach deal on expanded Russia review Sally Yates: Trump has taken his ‘assault on the rule of law to a new level’ Stopping Robert Mueller to protect us all MORE (R-Ala.), a leading critic of the bill, expects Rubio to advance some of the same policies his staff included in a memo circulated last month.

Those ideas include a plan to establish visa exit tracking at land ports of entry, not just air and sea ports, as the pending bill requires; and to build 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the southern border.

The Republicans outside the Gang of Eight most likely to support the legislation are Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Trump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress Dem rep to launch discharge petition to force net neutrality vote in House MORE (Maine), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (Ill.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiKeeping Pruitt could cost GOP Congress, Trump in the fall Trump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress GOP, Dem lawmakers come together for McCain documentary MORE (Alaska), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerKennedy retirement rumors shift into overdrive McConnell: Midterms will be 'very challenging' for GOP Singer Jason Mraz: Too much political 'combat' in Washington MORE (Nev.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchCorker turns downs Trump's offer to be ambassador to Australia Democrats urge colleagues to oppose prison reform bill The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate MORE (Utah).

The other Republicans in play are Sens. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by CVS Health - A pivotal day for House Republicans on immigration MORE (Ga.), Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (Ga.), Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnMr. President, let markets help save Medicare Pension insolvency crisis only grows as Congress sits on its hands Paul Ryan should realize that federal earmarks are the currency of cronyism MORE (Okla.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteThe Hill's Morning Report: Koch Network re-evaluating midterm strategy amid frustrations with GOP Audit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years MORE (N.H.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure Ryan: GOP has deal on bill easing Dodd-Frank MORE (Idaho), James Risch (Idaho), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA GOP senator’s defense of Tester counters Trump attacks GOP more confident about W. Va. Senate as Blankenship fades MORE (Kan.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA GOP lawmakers want Trump to stop bashing Congress The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by CVS Health - A pivotal day for House Republicans on immigration MORE (Tenn.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Corker turns downs Trump's offer to be ambassador to Australia Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (Tenn.), Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMississippi Democrat drops Senate bid Dems look to keep up momentum in upcoming special elections Chamber of Commerce makes play in Mississippi Senate race for Hyde-Smith MORE (Miss.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerTrump endorses Arkansas governor's reelection bid ahead of primary Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA GOP, Dem lawmakers come together for McCain documentary MORE (Miss.).

Liberal pro-immigrant advocacy groups will push amendments friendlier to immigrants living illegally in the country. The current bill does not grant a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants who came to the country after Dec. 31, 2011.

Groups want to move that cut-off date to the day the bill was introduced or the date it becomes law. They also want to reduce fines for immigrants who receive provisional legal status.