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

PHOTO: ObamaMark Wilson/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform at the White House, June 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

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.

He waded back into it today though, as he met with a mix of activists, business leaders and law enforcement officers to talk immigration at the White House. But that's about as far as he's gone with expressing his opinion.

Some Republican opponents of the bill, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have tried to drag Obama deeper into the discussion. Cruz told ABC News this week that the president is "the biggest obstacle to passing common sense immigration reform." The reason: because Obama wants a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

But so do the vast majority of Democrats in the Senate, as well as a small but growing segment of Republicans. So Cruz's comments seem more aimed at injecting Obama's name into the immigration debate.

Democrats aren't ready to let Cruz turn the debate into an Obama-bashing session. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), part of the group that drafted the immigration bill in the Senate, pointed out that he and the other sponsors are committed to citizenship for undocumented immigrants:

"Well, I think he has Obamaphobia," Menendez said of Cruz. "The reality is that it is the Gang of Eight that came together — four Democrats, four Republicans — and said that we need a path to citizenship."

Se Habla Español

While all this other stuff was going on, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) made history by delivering a 14-minute floor speech in Spanish.

According to the Washington Post, Kaine is the first senator in the modern era to give an entire floor speech in Spanish. The senator, who once served with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, said that he thought it would be appropriate to take a few minutes to explain the legislation in Spanish.

The remarks came directly after Sen. Marco Rubio spoke about his amendment to create more stringent English-language requirements for undocumented immigrants trying to obtain legal permanent residency.

I'll leave it up to you whether you want to file Kaine's speech under genuine outreach or Hispandering, but it's still unprecedented.

Update, 2:10 p.m. I added this final section about Tim Kaine's speech.

Update, 2:35 p.m. I updated with Sen. Kaine's service in Honduras. I had initially written that he served in the Peace Corps, based on what had been reported in WaPo, but didn't find any evidence to corroborate that online.