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Divide Emerges Among Immigration-Reform Opponents

Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been on one side of an emerging divide between himself and his fellow Republicans on Immigration reform.(Richard A. Bloom)

photo of Rebecca Kaplan
April 16, 2013

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee who have protested the speed and secrecy of the work of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” are far from united in a strategy to slow or kill the immigration-reform bill—or even on whether that’s the plan at all.

A divide has emerged between Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah, who both seem open to at least considering the gang’s plan, and fellow Republicans Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah, who still harbor deep concerns about the bill’s pathway to citizenship—a core principle for the gang’s members and President Obama.

All five Republicans have written to Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in the past asking for more public hearings on the bill, generating concern that they are more interested in killing the bill. If that’s the case, the way they’ll go about doing it is anyone’s guess.


Most panel members pleaded ignorance about the details of the legislation on Tuesday, saying they hadn’t had time to review the summary (though they were briefed on the plan’s contents Monday night).

“I think all of us are looking forward to reading the actual bill text. It’s difficult to assess legislation until you actually read what the legislation would do,” said Cruz. The full bill had not been filed by midday Tuesday, when the lawmakers were asked for reaction.

Grassley, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and Hatch gave the impression that they could even become “yes” votes as the bill works its way through the panel next month.

“I’m favorably disposed from what I’ve heard,” Hatch said. He demurred from taking a firm stand on the bill until he had a chance to read the whole thing, but he sounded optimistic about the upcoming markup.

“Hopefully, there will be an amendment process here that will perfect the bill. That’s the whole purpose,” he said. He also said that more hearings would be needed than the two scheduled for Friday and Monday, “not to delay, but just so all the issues can be brought up.”

Grassley praised the Gang of Eight for seeking input from their fellow lawmakers and portraying the bill as a starting point rather than a final agreement. “They have made a good-faith effort to find agreements that are very responsible considering the wide divergences of opinion,” he said.

Though not part of the Gang of Eight, both Hatch and Grassley contributed something to its proposed legislation: Hatch was one of four lawmakers hosting meetings for negotiators working on a new visa program for agricultural workers, and Grassley publicly thanked the group Tuesday for including his e-Verify program in its bill.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Sessions, who criticized several components of the gang’s proposal. He is doubtful that promises of increased border security will lead to action, critical of giving any immigrant in the U.S. illegally the chance to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship one day, and concerned about the effect the bill might have on unemployed U.S. workers.

“There is virtually no dispute in my opinion that the bill as proposed will pull down the wages of lower-wage workers in America, it will increase their likelihood of unemployment, it will mean that more people in the United States today—citizens and green-card holders—will be eligible for welfare,” Sessions said.

Cruz shares Sessions’ concerns about including a pathway to citizenship in the bill, suggesting that the gang’s commitment to the principle will undermine any chance of passing the legislation. “The way to pass a bill is to focus on areas where there is widespread bipartisan agreement,” he said. “The way to kill a bill is to focus on areas where there is sharp partisan disagreement.”

Then there’s Lee, once a member of Gang of Eight talks who split with the group last winter over the pathway to citizenship and special circumstances for agricultural workers. He had little to say about the plan Tuesday. “Haven’t seen it,” Lee said. “I just barely learned that they had released language.”

Two GOP gang members, Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that the reaction from their colleagues to the bill had been receptive, with many eager to learn more details.

“There’ll be some people we’ll never get, but I think most people are very open-minded,” Graham said, adding that he thinks public pressure will help shape opinion.

Rubio said, “People always are going to express concerns about the things you always have concern about: the cost, the number of people, the border security, is it really going to happen.”

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