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Updated: Death Knell for John Cornyn's Anti-Citizenship Amendment

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Update (12: 35 PM): The Cornyn amendment has been tabled by the Senate, by a 54-43 vote.

John Cornyn’s border-trigger, citizenship-killing amendment is likely to come up on the Senate floor today — and it’s going down to defeat. Details are emerging about another deal on border security from Senators Hoeven (R-ND) and Corker (R-TN)–which some have already called “excessive and wasteful.” We’ll have more on that unfolding story throughout the day.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has an editorial about what border first measures like Cornyn’s really mean.  There’s a reason we’ve been calling his amendment a “poison pill”—because it exists to make sure that immigrants will never be able to take the step toward citizenship, a position that immigration reform advocates cannot support.

As the WSJ editorial says:

The immigration debate has turned once again to “securing the border,” and Republicans are once again demanding more enforcement as the price of their support. Here’s the real story: For some Republicans, border security has become a ruse to kill reform. The border could be defended by the 10th Mountain Division and Claymore antipersonnel mines and it wouldn’t be secure enough.

How secure is the border?  And how much more secure does the Gang of 8 immigration bill already make it?

As we noted last month (“Border Security Reality Check,” May 2), the U.S.-Mexico border is more secure today than it has been in decades. According to Border Patrol statistics, illegal entries are at a 40-year low. Apprehensions of illegal entrants exceeded 1.1 million in 2005, but in both 2011 and 2012 the number was below 365,000.

According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, the number of illegal immigrants who escaped capture at the nine major crossing points from San Diego to El Paso fell an astonishing 86% between 2006 and 2011. All the talk-show shouting about America under siege from immigrants streaming across the Rio Grande is fiction…

The Gang of Eight bill now on the Senate floor would add another $4.5 billion or so for border control. That means still more agents, drones and fencing. The bill also puts in place vast new internal enforcement measures to apprehend the roughly 40% of illegal immigrants who do not cross the border illegally but overstay their visas.

These measures include money for tracking down visa overstays, harassing employers with enforcement raids, and an E-verify system for employers to validate the legal status of workers. Republicans claim to like employers—except when they’re chasing down Guatemalan hotel maids.

The thing is, amendments like John Cornyn’s want to use border security levels as a “trigger” that control when legalization and citizenship happens.  And of course, when Republicans push for border security as a excuse to stymie immigration reform, no amount of enforcement is ever enough.  Which means that the trigger conditions are never met, and immigrants can never become citizens.  And that’s how some Republicans are currently trying to kill the bill.

Yet not even all this is good enough for most GOP Senators. So in recent days we have seen them offer one amendment after another to delay key elements of the bill. These Republicans want a “trigger” mechanism so that other provisions of reform are stymied until the border is declared “under operational control.”

Amendments by John Thune of South Dakota and Chuck Grassley of Iowa tried to delay the eventual permanent legalization of some 11 million currently illegal residents until “tangible” additional border security benchmarks are met. The amendments failed, but let’s be honest. The border will never be secure enough for this crowd, so the “trigger” for the rest of the reforms will never be activated…

This is the same trick Republican restrictionists used to kill immigration reform in 2007 when George W. Bush was President. Seven years later, illegal immigration is down by about 60%, yet the “secure the border first” chorus repeats the same arguments.

Stay tuned for what happens with the Cornyn amendment today.  If it gets tabled (or put to a vote and defeated), it’ll mark “the defeat of a major conservative drive to kill reform,” as Greg Sargent put it.