S. 744, the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill, cleared another significant hurdle today when the Senate approved a motion to proceed to the legislation. The motion to proceed passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 84-15.
Before voting, a few senators used the morning to make their cases for and against the bill. To show why immigration reform is needed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) spoke about a U.S. veteran’s wife who is undocumented and feared deportation until she received deferred action. “There are 11 million reasons to pass common-sense immigration reform that mends our broken system,” Reid said, “11 million stories of heartbreak and suffering that should motivate Congress to act.” Despite concerns by some about the bill, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voted for the motion to proceed. After the Gang of Eight wrote the bill and the Senate Judiciary Committee went through markup, “now it’s time for the Gang of 100 to do its work — for the entire Senate to have its say on this issue, and see if we can do something to improve the status quo,” McConnell said.
As he said he would after markup, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) voted for the motion to proceed because he said it’s time to have a debate about immigration reform. But Cornyn, who will introduce his RESULTS amendment to increase the bill’s border security provisions, said the bill will fail without stronger enforcement measures. “If in fact Congress fails to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the opponents of these sensible border security measures will have no one to blame but themselves,” Cornyn said. Following Cornyn’s floor speech, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) pushed back against Cornyn’s insistence on additional enforcement. “This bill will make our country safer, and I believe it will make our country stronger,” he said. “[And] it strikes the right balance of those who are here undocumented to come out of the shadows.”
And Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) gave his floor speech in support of the immigration bill entirely in Spanish. He said the Gang of Eight measure is not perfect but will improve border security, increase interior enforcement, and reduce the backlog of people waiting to enter the U.S. “Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past, but let’s also remember that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good,” Kaine said, according to an English version of his prepared remarks. “Finding a perfect solution should not stand in the way of progress.”
And as the Senate debated the immigration reform bill today, President Obama made his pitch for immigration reform in a speech at the White House. “If you’re serious about actually fixing the system, then this is the vehicle to do it,” President Obama said. “If you’re not serious about it, if you think that a broken system is the best America can do, then I guess it makes sense to try to block it.” And he added “there’s no reason” Congress can’t pass an immigration bill by the end of summer. Ahead of his remarks, Tolu Olubunmi, a DREAMer from Nigeria, introduced the president including in her remarks her own moving, personal tale describing her hopes to pursue a career as an engineer, noting “It’s unfortunate that my immigration status limits my contribution.”
President Obama’s endorsement of S. 744 is an encouraging signal as senators continue to debate the bill. It is a strong, bipartisan piece of legislation that hopefully will face an open amendment process on the Senate floor.