Four Republican senators who fervently oppose the Senate immigration reform bill proposed by the so-called “Gang of Eight” voiced their opposition and criticized the bill in a letter sent to colleagues Tuesday.
Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Mike Lee of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa wrote that the immigration reform bill “fails” to the secure the southern border and that it “rewards” undocumented immigrants by offering them a path to citizenship. The senators also wrote that the legislation “provides immediate legalization” to undocumented immigrants without first securing the border and that it doesn’t fix the nation’s broken immigration system.
“Americans expect their government to end the lawlessness, not surrender to it. They deserve immigration reform with actual border security, enforcement of the laws on the books, and a legal immigration system that works,” the senators wrote. “We must welcome and celebrate legal immigrants, but S. 744 fails to deliver anything more than the same empty promises Washington has been making for 30 years.”
The four senators who wrote the letter are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved the immigration reform bill two weeks ago. All four of them voted against the bill.
The letter comes as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the “Gang of Eight,” is leading the charge to strengthen the immigration reform bill’s border security and enforcement measures. On Monday, he said in a video to constituents that the legislation, which heads to the Senate floor next week, needs “improvements” to pass.
“If we can make sure we put in place enforcement mechanisms and a guest worker program that ensures this will never happen again in the future, we’re going to have responsible immigration reform,” he said. “And if we don’t have that then we won’t have immigration reform, and I think our country will suffer for it.”
Rubio proposes change to immigration reform bill
One change Rubio has in mind is having Congress, instead of the Department of Homeland Security, come up with the border control strategy that would achieve and maintain a 90-percent effectiveness rate in stopping unauthorized crossers along the entire border.
In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Rubio said this is a better option because of “how little confidence people have that the federal government will enforce the law.”
“In essence, what people say to us is ‘we know we have to reform the legal immigration system, we know we have to deal with the 11 million people that are here illegally, but we’re only willing to do that if we can make sure that this never ever happens again,’” he said. ”We don’t want to be back here in two years, in five years, 10 years dealing with another 5 or 10 million illegal immigrants.”
“And so that’s the key,” he continued. “And people don’t trust the Department of Homeland Security to do this job or to come up with a plan that will do the job.”
Rubio hopes this and other changes that would strengthen the bill’s enforcement and border security provisions will help increase the number of “yes” votes in the Senate. He also told Fox News on Tuesday that as it stands, the bill does not have the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.
But that is the opposite of what some Democrats are saying. In a recent interview with a Nevada television program, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “I think we have 60 votes.”
“Remember, we start out at 55 Democrats. I think the most I’ll lose is two or three,” he said. “Let’s say I wind up with 52 Democrats. I only need eight Republicans, and I already have four, so that should be pretty easy.”
But with Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-N.J.) death on Monday, there are now 54 Democrats in the Senate, which means one less vote for the immigration reform bill.
Advocates worry changes would ‘undermine’ the bill
Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other “Gang of Eight” leaders are pushing for 70 or more votes in the Senate, hoping it will encourage more House Republicans to back the bill.
But pro-immigration reform advocates worry about what it would take to reach the 70-plus “yes” votes. They say strengthening the bill’s border security and enforcement provisions, which they argue are already strong enough, just to attract Republican votes would “undermine” the bill.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, stated that the border and interior enforcement upgrades already included in the bill “amount to the largest enforcement increase in American history.”
“Loading up on enforcement in a way that threatens the path to citizenship would undermine the balance carefully forged in the Gang of Eight bill,” Sharry said in a statement. “Immigration reform not only has to pass in Congress, it has to work when implemented.”
Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, released a statement, calling on Rubio to “show leadership and stand up for the immigrant community, rather than moving the goalposts and threatening this historic opportunity to pass immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship.”
“We expect Senator Rubio to stand by the bill he helped draft, pledging to defend it rather than looking for more opportunities to water it down,” Jimenez stated.