Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who helped draft the bill, said it would “change our policy so that the people who are needed to help our economy grow can come into this country, and at the same time we will note that when families are divided the humane thing to do is bring those families back together.
Republican critics made no claim they can defeat the bill in committee and concentrated instead on casting doubt on assertions that it will secure the U.S.-Mexican border before it allows immigrants illegally in the United States to take their first steps toward legal status.
“The triggers in the bill that kick off legalization are weak,” said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, referring to a series of requirements that must be met before unauthorized immigrants can apply for legal status. “No one can dispute that this bill is legalization first, enforcement later.”
He said the last extensive overhaul of immigration in 1986 had also claimed it would end illegal immigration. “We thought we were so certain … and we screwed up,” he said of those who voted for the bill 37 years ago, himself among them.
The first challenge came on Grassley’s proposal to require six months to elapse between the time the southern border is secured and immigrants may begin seeking legal status, a step Schumer said would “delay, probably forever, any legalization” for immigrants now living in the country without authorization.
The second was advanced by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and sought to require that both houses of Congress vote to declare the border secure before the citizenship process could begin. Under the legislation as drafted, the secretary of Homeland Security has the authority to make that declaration.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, later tried to require that the number of U.S. border patrol agents be tripled on the U.S.-Mexico border and the amount of equipment stationed there be quadrupled before any immigrant could apply for a change in legal status.
Hatch, who had supported the two earlier GOP proposals, opposed the Cruz plan.