They needed 60 – but they got 82. The Senate voted 82 to 15 to formally begin the debate on the immigration reform bill, clearing the way for the possibility that the Senate votes on the legislation before July 4th, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he intends to do.
All Senate Democrats voted yes, and were joined by 20 Republican Senators, including Texas Senator John Cornyn, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; 15 Republicans voted against it. These included Texas Senator Ted Cruz, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Louisiana Senator David Vitter, and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.
Another “no” vote was Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk. Frank Sharry, executive director of the progressive pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice, criticized Kirk, saying, “he hails from a gateway state with a proud bipartisan tradition of welcoming immigrants and yet he voted with a group of far right cultural conservatives.”
Kirk said he voted “no” but plans to vote “yes” on the final bill if an amendment introduced by Texas Senator John Cornyn to significantly strengthen the border is passed. This didn’t pass muster with immigration reform advocates like Sharry.
“And those who hold out the Cornyn amendment as a condition for support are not looking to get to yes, but they are looking for an excuse to get to no,” Sharry said.
Voting “yes” today on the vote, however, does not mean support of the current bill. Today Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said he would introduce an amendment requiring all immigrants to prove they were English-proficient before receiving legal immigration status, a provision which could delay the pathway to legalization as it is currently designed in the Gang of Eight bill — which Rubio helped draft.
Moreover, Rubio as well as Texas Senator John Cornyn have said their “yes” votes are contingent on much more stringent and tougher border security provisions. Senate Democrats and President Obama have taken issue with stricter border security measures; at the White House today, Obama said “illegal crossings have been at their lowest level in years,” and said the bill would add an additional $6.5 billion to funding for enforcement.
A Latino Decisions poll out today finds 81 percent of Latino voters — including Hispanics from all parties — reject the idea of securing the border first before offering a pathway to citizenship.
While the debate inside the Senate promises to be intense, so is the debate and outreach among groups for and against the bill.
Today the group Numbers USA, which is opposed to increasing immigration, criticized the Senators who voted to move the bill to the Senate floor. “Their biggest challenge will be showing compassion to the 20 million workers — disproportionately black and Hispanic Americans — who can’t find a full-time job,” said the group.
But pro-immigration reform groups like the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) say the vote signals a positive shift on reform — and they vow to keep putting pressure on legislators.
“The skeptics about the prospects of reform have been wrong at every point,” said FIRM spokesperson Kica Matos. “Make no mistake, we will continue to flex our political muscle on behalf of our families,” she said.