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Amendments may pose as 'poison pills' to immigration reform

The Senate’s 82-15 vote on Tuesday to prevent a filibuster on the immigration bill has brought President Obama a step closer to being the first president

The Senate’s 82-15 vote on Tuesday to prevent a filibuster on the immigration bill has brought President Obama a step closer to being the first president since Ronald Reagan to make a lasting impression on immigration policy.

Reforming that policy has been one of the president’s legislative priorities since taking office. Now, after passing the Affordable Care Act, enacting an $831 billion economic stimulus package, and successfully bailing out the auto industry, Obama is poised to have immigration reform as his next big victory in his legislative agenda.

However, with hundreds of amendments being introduced on the Senate floor, it remains to be seen if an immigration bill will ever reach the president's desk.

Amendments introduced from both sides of the aisle could become "poison pills" to the larger reform efforts, the Melissa Harris-Perry panel discussed on Saturday. One such amendment is Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s proposal that a 90% apprehension rate of undocumented immigrants be achieved before the bill’s pathway to citizenship becomes enacted.

The New York Times editorial board wrote Friday that such a precise calculation is nearly impossible to make, creating an impossible mandate that would indefinitely prevent a pathway to citizenship from coming into effect.

Democratic consultant Jamal Simmons described Cornyn’s involvement with the bill as evoking Peanuts' "Lucy with the football"--citing Cornyn’s demands for concessions that weakened the 2007 immigration bill, only to vote against the final measure.

Other amendments seeking to build triggers for a pathway to citizenship into the bill have already failed, including Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley’s proposal for the Department of Homeland Security to first demonstrate six months of "effective" border control. That amendment was defeated in a 57-43 vote on Thursday.

Controversial amendments still on the table include Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe’s push to allow English-only workplace policies and to declare English as an official language. Another measure out by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy would extend benefits to same-sex partners of undocumented immigrants.

While senators of both parties have vowed that passing these amendments would sink the bill, they are also keeping an eye on public opinion polling of Latino voters. A new national poll by Latino Decisions found that Latino voters would be 45% more likely to vote Republican if the GOP takes a leadership role in passing immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. On Saturday’s panel, Reason magazine editor-in-chief Matt Welch suggested that Republicans, who won only 27% of the Latino vote in the 2012 presidential election, may now be motivated to deal with immigration reform in a way they weren’t during Congress’s last attempt in 2007.

Senate "Gang of Eight" member Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the bipartisan architects of the original bill were "willing to entertain amendments" to ease the process of getting to 70 votes. On Saturday’s panel, NYU professor Cristina Beltran said that strategy "seems like a recipe for creating poor amendments." NBC Latino contributor Raul Reyes stated there’s a "strong case to be made that it’s better to go with a good bill with 60 or more votes, rather than something that’s an assault on the core of the bill now," that core being the pathway to citizenship.

Despite his support for comprehensive immigration reform, President Obama has not taken the spotlight on the bill. "He’s playing a deft hand," noted Simmons, particularly by taking a step back and letting the Senate Gang of Eight lead the bill through Congress. Reyes agreed the president "can’t be too involved because he’ll be a lightning rod" that could threaten bipartisan support.

See the rest of the conversation below.