Immigration Reform Kicks Off: A Guide To What's Happening

PHOTO: Obama

The Senate is expected to allow a much-anticipated immigration reform bill to formally move forward for debate on Tuesday.

See Also: Senate Moves Forward on Immigration Bill

Now that the bill is on the Senate floor, politicians from both parties are weighing in about the legislation.

Here's what they're saying and what it means:


How long could it take to pass a bill?

Well, it will start with getting it through the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) thinks that could happen before July 4. Republican opponents may try to slow down the process, but the legislation should enjoy near universal support among Democrats and already has some Republicans signed on.

The timeline in the House is more nebulous. The body still hasn't produced its own comprehensive immigration reform bill, although one of the congressmen working on it, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), said on Tuesday that it would be ready within a week or two.

Then there's the Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio). His leadership will be pivotal in determining whether a bill can make it through the conservative-minded House.

He said on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday that an immigration bill could be passed "by the end of the year," but wouldn't commit to what that bill will look like.

Winning Republican Votes

The bill in the Senate should be able to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and gain passage. But the plan's sponsors want it to leave the Senate with a lot of momentum, and that means more Republican votes. The hope is that a strong backing in the Senate will help carry the bill through the Republican-controlled House.

So how do you win over the GOP? The biggest area where Senate Republicans want to see changes is border security.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) plans to introduce an amendment that would reportedly replace the entire section of the immigration plan that deals with border enforcement. One of the biggest changes in the amendment would be that a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants -- already a 13-year wait in the proposed bill -- could be delayed even further if border security goals aren't met.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the amendment a "poison pill" on Univision, saying Democrats wouldn't be able to vote for something like that.

Aside from Cornyn, there are plenty of Republican senators who are more likely to vote for the bill. But they'll probably want to see tougher measures added to it.

An amendment that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) plans to introduce seems geared in that direction: it would require most undocumented immigrants to read, speak and write English before they'll be able to become legal permanent residents.

In the House, finding GOP votes for immigration reform has been even more difficult. Conservative members are insisting on even stricter border security measures and many are opposed to a path to citizenship. But Speaker Boehner gave immigration reformers hope when he didn't rule out passing a bill without a majority of GOP support on "Good Morning America."

"I don't believe that will be the case," he said, adding, "we're gonna let the House work its will."

The Obama Factor

While the president supports the immigration overhaul proposed in the Senate, he's largely stayed out of the public debate. His camp is worried his public support would actually make it harder for Republicans to back the legislation.

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