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Immigration reform: Two Senate bill authors see pathway to ... passage

Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Jeff Flake (R), two of the Gang of Eight immigration reformers, said Wednesday there's room to amend the immigration reform bill to include some things conservatives want without sacrificing Democratic votes. Other 'gang' members are more worried.

By Staff writer / June 12, 2013

Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) (l.) speak at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel on June 12, in Washington, DC.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

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Within the sweeping immigration reform measure now before the Senate, there’s room to add border security measures that conservative lawmakers want without laying waste to the path to citizenship that liberals demand, say Sens. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado and Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona, two authors of the bill.

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“We are open to everybody’s good ideas here, as long as they are consistent with the underlying principles in the legislation,” said Senator Bennet. “I think it’s possible to stick with those principles and expand our vote total.” 

Bennet, Senator Flake, and the other “Gang of Eight” senators who drafted the bill hope to win 70 Senate votes for their handiwork – a number that they say will show an abundance of support within the Republican caucus and will get the attention of fellow Republicans in the House.

“We can pass this out with 60, 61, 62,” votes, Senator Flake said, “but that doesn’t do us much good in the House.”

The two senators, speaking at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday, said their optimism extends – cautiously, for Bennet – to a border security amendment offered by Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, which is shaping up to be a key test. It would require a higher hurdle for border security before the path to citizenship can open for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants already in the US.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada has called the Cornyn measure a “poison pill,” saying its mix of high border-security hurdles, unclear metrics for determining success, and tying the whole thing to the pathway to citizenship for people already in the US illegally amounts to "a back-door way to undermine the legislation." 

Senator Cornyn’s amendment, introduced Wednesday, would require the US to meet certain conditions before illegal immigrants could pursue permanent residency. They include constant observation of the 2,000-mile southern border (including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in some form or fashion 24 hours a day, seven days a week) and apprehension of 90 percent of potential border-crossers. It also would mandate nationwide implementation of workplace employment verification software known as E-Verify, as well as biometric identification systems in all the nation’s seaports and international airports.

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