The White House has a warning to Republican senators who want to add on tougher border security language to the immigration bill: don't mess with the path to citizenship.
Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio have said that the border security language in the bill he helped write aren't strict enough to pass through Congress. An effort is underway to strengthen the border security provisions on the Senate floor. But President Obama likely will not accept changes that impede a pathway to citizenship, according to Cecilia Muñoz, the White House's immigration point person.
"Any amendment, which in the name of border enforcement actually undercuts or eliminates a pathway to citizenship, strikes at the heart of what the Gang of Eight agreed to and what the president put forward in his principles," Muñoz, director of the White House domestic policy council, said at a briefing for Hispanic media outlets on Thursday.
Muñoz's comments are a warning to Republicans as the bill moves to the Senate floor next week.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R) is expected to propose an amendment that essentially rewrites the entire border enforcement section of the bill. His amendment would require that the federal government achieve certain border security goals -- such as 100 percent monitoring of all border sectors and a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal crossers -- before immigrants legalized immigrants can apply for permanent residency.
The bill as written requires that a plan to accomplish those goals on the border be implemented, before immigrants can adjust their status. But immigrants wouldn't be blocked from seeking permanent legal status after a 10-year wait, even if all of the border metrics are not achieved.
Cornyn has drawn the ire of liberal groups who questioned his willingness to vote yes on the bill, even if his amendment is adopted. But even Rubio, one of the bill's eight authors, has said that he would vote no on the bill unless the border language is strengthened. Rubio has reportedly worked with Cornyn on the amendment.
Muñoz would not comment on the Cornyn amendment specifically. Instead called the existing Gang of Eight bill the "strongest bill with respect to immigration enforcement, certainly in recent memory, possibly ever" and noted that the border language was already strengthened in the Senate Judiciary Committee. She said the White House is open to further debate on border issues, but ultimately, wants a bill that strikes a compromise between security and legalization.
"We know there are some hot-button issues in this debate," she said. "The Senate floor is going to be another test of whether all eight of those members want to get to an agreement."
Despite these thorny issues, Muñoz expressed hope that the Senate can pass its bill before the July 4th recess. And even though immigration could face an even more difficult path in the House, she said the White House wants the lower chamber to act before Congress breaks in August.