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Immigration debate: Border hawks lose first round

June 13, 2013|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (R) and ranking member Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) debate during a markup session for the immigration reform legislation in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (R) and ranking… (Chip Somodevilla/Getty…)

Efforts to gut a key provision of a bipartisan immigration bill failed Thursday, when an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) stalled.

Grassley's amendment would have required that border security benchmarks be met before immigrants who are in the country illegally can obtain legal status. Key Republican leaders have repeatedly criticized the billĀ  as too lax on border enforcement and demanded more funding for border patrol agents and technology, including drones, before they vote for the bill.

The so-called Gang of Eight bill, now before the full Senate, is considered the most ambitious attempt in decades to overhaul the nation's immigration system. It would increase border and work site enforcement, revamp the current visa system, and create a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who are illegally in the country.

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Thursday's vote was a small but critical test for supporters of the bill, who fear Republican opponents will try to sink the legisation. So far, however, the bill remains largely intact, though many more amendments are expected to be voted on in the coming days, including some that would also tie enhanced border security to legalization.

No one disputes the need for border security, but as The Times’ editorial board has said, setting arbitrary triggers that require an airtight border before allowing millions to legalize makes little sense, and would keep immigrants waiting for far too long before knowing that they could remain in the country.

Thursday’s Senate vote is just the beginning of a long debate this summer.

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