WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to move forward with debate on immigration reform over the objections of some conservatives, including Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, who fear it does not adequately secure the border with Mexico.
"I don’t like the bill itself at all," Boozman, R-Ark., said Tuesday. "That’s why I voted not to go further with floor debate. It needs to be cleaned up first."
The Senate voted 84-15 to move ahead with what is expected to be an extensive debate on the legislation that came out of months of negotiations among a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators. A final vote is not anticipated until the end of the month.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted in favor of holding the floor debate and said that he is leaning in favor of supporting the bill.
"I appreciate that the senators who put this together tried to put together balanced legislation. It is a balanced approach and a comprehensive approach, so I am leaning toward voting for it right now," Pryor said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cautioned supporters of the bill that Tuesday’s vote does not guarantee easy sailing – far from it. Republican opponents are expected to offer a slew of amendments to strengthen border security provisions and erect additional hurdles for 11 million unauthorized immigrants to become citizens.
"This bill has serious flaws," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "There need to be major changes to this bill if it is to become law."
The bill provides a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants now living in the country. It also provides $6.5 million more to secure the southwestern border and requires all U.S. businesses to verify citizenship before hiring new workers.
Those immigrants seeking citizenship would first have to wait at least 10 years, pass a criminal background check, learn English, pay their taxes, and pay at least $2,000 in fines.
Boozman said that the bill pays lip service to border security, as he said was the case in 1986 when President Reagan signed an immigration law that legalized 3 million people.
"The key is not to have another wave of illegal immigration. We were promised that when we gave them amnesty under President Reagan and it didn’t happen. And, with this bill border security is really up in the air," he said.
Boozman said there needs to be an emphasis on enforcing immigration laws and a commitment to embracing emerging technologies — sensors and other devices — that can help secure the border.
"Congress is willing to spend the money but the administration has to put it in place, and comments from the Obama administration that suggest the border is more secure than ever isn’t really helpful," Boozman said.
Pryor said he does share some of Boozman’s concerns with border security.
"I do think we need to enforce the laws we have on the books and have strong border security," he said.
Pryor said he also has questions about how the government plans to collect taxes from undocumented workers who were paid under the table.