The bipartisan immigration bill overcame yet another Republican-led effort in the Senate on Thursday. But the debate on comprehensive reform is becoming more grueling as the right-wing digs in, apparently determined to block a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents.
The Gang of Eight banded together to stop the first attempt to change the landmark legislation. Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley offered a proposal to maintain "effective control" of the entire U.S.-Mexico border for a period of six months before granting legal status to illegal immigrants. The bill's supporters argued that the Grassley stipulation could take years for the Department of Homeland Security to achieve, essentially making it impossible for the bill to fix the current immigration system.
Grassley's measure was voted down, 57-43. Sen. Grassley argued that the vote was conducted after very little discussion. "This type of obstruction is the wrong way to start the amendment process," he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the Gang of Eight senators who drafted the legislation, said in a radio interview that he opposed the Grassley amendment because it would significantly delay the legalization process for undocumented immigrants. "We cannot wait another four years of de facto amnesty," Rubio said. "We cannot wait another four years with 11 million people living in this country illegally without knowing who they are or why they're here."
But the Florida senator threatened to block his own bill in a Thursday interview on the Andrea Tantaros Show. "If this bill has something in it that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill. I'm done," Rubio said about Sen. Patrick Leahy's proposed amendment that would allow same-sex married couples to petition for green cards for foreign-born spouses, as heterosexual married couples can. "I'm off it, and I've said that repeatedly. I don't think that's going to happen and it shouldn't happen. This is already a difficult enough issue as it is."
Because same-sex couples are currently not provided the immigration benefits that are given to heterosexual couples, LGBT couples are forced either to live apart or move to another country that federally recognizes same-sex marriages. But if DOMA were to be repealed, the situation could change for couples with foreign spouses.
Sen. John McCain has also opposed adding LGBT provisions to the immigration bill. "Which is more important: LGBT or border security? I'll tell you what my priorities are. If you're going to load it up with social issues, that is the best way to derail it, in my view," McCain said in January.
Despite Republican senators joining with Democrats to usher the bill towards passage, conservative rhetoric on immigration has not softened. Rep. Steve King tweeted on Thursday that his office had been "invaded" by a group of "illegal aliens."
20 brazen self professed illegal aliens have just invaded my DC office. Obama's lawless order gives them de facto immunity from U.S. law.— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) June 13, 2013
The activists who arrived at Rep. King's Capitol Hill office were young undocumented immigrants fighting for the Dream Act, a policy that stopped deportations and gave work permits to students eligible for the program. Working alongside the political group United We Dream, the group convened to express opposition to King's recently passed amendment that effectively deports more "Dreamers" who came to the U.S. as children.
President Obama met with Senators Leahy, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Robert Menendez and Michael Bennet to discuss the immigration effort at the White House on Thursday. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney laid out the president's objectives.
"What our goal is--the president's goal is--is that the Senate keep its eye on the ball and not allow those who clearly have no interest in passing comprehensive immigration reform--with all its benefits to the economy and the middle class and our businesses--not allow them to derail this process but instead to keep focused on a bill that will achieve the principles that the president and the Gang of Eight have laid out."
But conservatives like Ted Cruz who have claimed the House will not the pass the Senate immigration bill as written are still working to kill the Gang of Eight bill. Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter said the Republican party "deserves to die" if it backs immigration reform and allows more Hispanics to become citizens.
"Democrats terrify Hispanics into thinking they'll be lynched if they vote for Republicans, and then turn around and taunt Republicans for not winning a majority of the Hispanic vote," Coulter wrote in a column on Wednesday.
Coulter also predicted the effect of an immigration reform bill on the GOP. "This will be a disaster for the Republican party," Coulter told Fox News' Sean Hannity Wednesday evening. "We'll never win another national election. Thank you, Marco Rubio."
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, another member of the Senate Gang of Eight, said the GOP is also "toast in 2016" if it does not help pass immigration reform this year.
“From our party’s point of view, if this thing falls apart and we get blamed because we’re not practical, we created border security mechanisms that were unachievable, we tried to change the structure in a dramatic way and we get the blame, we’re toast in 2016,” Graham said last week.
Despite the right-wing sounding the alarm, advocates of the pending immigration bill are hoping the Senate can clear the bill, including most Republicans who have hoped to improve their party's stance with Hispanic voters for future elections.