Members of the Senate Gang of Eight (some Senators in front row) (Photo/Getty Images )

On immigration, advocates readying for “big battle ahead”

The bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight” members are bracing for a “battle,” says a Congressional aide familiar with negotiations, as the Senate Judiciary Committee begins debating and amending the immigration bill this Thursday.

“The Senators are really trying to stay unified on issues, so they will look at proposed amendments together and see if they can support — or oppose — them as a group,” says the aide.

Republican Senators Marco Rubio, John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Jeff Flake spent months working in tandem with Democratic Senators Robert Menendez, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Michael Bennet, and crafted the sweeping, 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.  The bill calls for a gradual pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants, as long as certain triggers are met regarding border security and a border fence, employment verification and an entry/exit visa system.  The proposed legislation also calls for eliminating the backlog for legal immigrants, and increasing the number of high-skilled visas as well as creating a new type of visa for low-skilled workers.

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Pro-immigration reform proponents and legislators recognize there will be “landmines” in all those areas as the Senate undergoes the debate.

“From the beginning we were expecting senators who oppose it to make a lot of noise to try to stop the bill,” says the aide.

Today the pro-immigration group America’s Voice and other immigration advocates denounced senators they call the “Gang of Hate” for their opposition to reform.  Among the Senators singled out were Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.  “Their main objective is to kill the bill,” said Cesar Vargas, a Dreamer and the director of the DRM Action Coalition.

During recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, these senators, as well as groups who oppose the current immigration bill, took issue with different parts of the proposed bill, especially security concerns following the Boston terrorist bombings as well as doubts that legalizing the undocumented would be economically beneficial.

But it’s not just conservative or Republican amendments that the Gang of Eight will be reviewing.  More liberal groups are urging the Senate to include language making provisions for same-sex couples or to stress family reunification.

Some of these issues — such as the same-sex provision — could get thorny as the bipartisan group of senators review the different proposed amendments and try to keep a unified front, says the Congressional aide.

Speaking to Telemundo’s Lori Montenegro about the prospects of immigration legislation, President Barack Obama said, “there will be a number of ups and downs and near-death experiences as this thing — travels.  But –when you look at where the American people are — we can get this done.”

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