WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is poised to push landmark immigration legislation across a few final hurdles ahead of passage as early as Thursday of the bill opening the door to U.S. citizenship for millions.
The legislation cleared an early procedural hurdle this week with room to spare, and more test votes were due Wednesday. The White House-backed bill would pour billions into border security and offer a path to citizenship to some 11 million immigrants now in the United States illegally.
"A permanent, commonsense solution to our dysfunctional system is really in sight," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday on the Senate floor. "It is my hope that our colleagues in the House will follow the Senate's lead and work to pass bipartisan reform and do it now."
Opponents weren't convinced.
"It continues to promote false promises that the border would be truly secure," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Prospects were anything but clear in the GOP-controlled House, where many conservatives oppose citizenship or even legalization for people in this country illegally. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, reiterated Wednesday that he has no plans to hold a vote on the Senate-passed immigration bill.
"We are not going to take up the Senate bill," the speaker told fellow Republicans in a meeting Wednesday morning, according to Rep. John Fleming, R-La.
The House Judiciary Committee was to vote Wednesday on legislation requiring employers to verify their workers' legal status. It's the third in a series of single-issue immigration bills the committee has voted on as it takes a piecemeal approach to overhauling the nation's immigration system, in contrast with the Senate's comprehensive bill.
In the Senate, after the addition of $38 billion in provisions strengthening border security, doubling the size of the border patrol, and completing hundreds of miles of fencing, the legislation looked likely to command support from around 14 Republicans on final passage. That's more than enough to ensure the 60-vote margin needed for passage, as all 52 Democrats and the two independents who usually vote with them look likely to stick together.
As time drew short to cut any last-minute deals before final action on the bill, there was still some hope of negotiating a few final amendments that could bring even more Republicans on board.
Sen. Rob. Portman, R-Ohio, was pushing an amendment to strengthen an electronic employment verification program made mandatory in the bill. "I can't vote for (the bill) without it," Portman said.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., sought changes to a new agriculture workers program that he said makes it too easy for farm workers to get permanent U.S. residency.
But the measures sought by Portman and Chambliss are being opposed by some immigrant advocacy groups, and some Senate Democrats believe the bill has enough Republican support as is without pursuing more changes.