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Why Sen. Cornyn’s Amendment Won’t Pass

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Because Cornyn’s Proposal is a Poison Pill that Threatens the Heart of the Senate Immigration Reform Bill

As we’ve been saying, Senator John Cornyn’s (R-TX) border security amendment is a thinly disguised effort to thwart the path to citizenship – the bill’s popular heart and an essential component of workable immigration reform.  With wide ranging criticisms spanning from Senate leadership to Gang of Eight members to national and Texas columnists and editorials page alike, it’s little wonder why the prospects for passage of Senator Cornyn’s amendment looks so dim:

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blasts Cornyn’s amendment: He said on Univision’s “Al Punto,” “We have a senator from Texas, Senator Cornyn who wants to change border security, a trigger, saying that it has to be a 100 percent border security, or [there will] be no bill. That’s a poison pill…If people have suggestions like they did in the Judiciary Committee to change the bill a little bit, I’ll be happy to take a look at that. But we’re not going to have big changes.”  He further warned, “Let’s not carry this to extremes…This is only an attempt to hurt the bill.”
  • Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls Cornyn’s amendment a “poison pill:” He stated about the Cornyn amendment: “Hopefully we can have an alternative that satisfies some of the concerns without killing the bill.…It’s not possible for us to support his amendment as it is presently written because it is a poison pill.”
  • Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) highlights cost concerns: He tells Dallas Morning News reporter Todd Gillman, “As presented it’s too costly – it’s over $20 billion. It’d break the bank.”  And on the border triggers in Cornyn’s amendment, Graham says, “[the triggers] will be subject to manipulation so it may not be a viable trigger.”
  • Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) holds the line on the pathway to citizenship: Said Bennet, “What we are not open to is using that discussion as a pretext for making the pathway more difficult.”
  • Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls Cornyn’s amendment a “non-starter:”  Said Schumer, “We cannot accept the Cornyn amendment…I’ve told John that already. The way it would change the triggers would jeopardize the path to citizenship. You should tell the people you’re lobbying that that is not going to happen. There may be other amendments dealing with the border that we can accept but not that one.”

In addition to Senate Gang of Eight members, national and Texas columnists and editorial boards have also weighed-in on Cornyn’s amendment:

  • Dallas Morning News columnist, William McKenzie, pens a column entitled, “I’d hate to be in charge of making Cornyn’s border security ideas work.”  He writes, “What I don’t get is how Texas has gone from having a Republican president who led the charge for immigration reform in 2006 and 2007 to two GOP senators who are overtly or cleverly trying to make it impossible to create a way for illegal immigrants to step forward and earn citizenship over time…[Cornyn’s] setting up a process that may be difficult to work efficiently and effectively.  That way, illegal immigrants will never get their citizenship papers.  Of course, Cornyn would never come right out and say that.  I wish he would.  I would rather him say he doesn’t want this bill, rather than set it up to fail.”
  • The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes “The details of the Cornyn amendment are not encouraging. It looks like it is designed for the express purpose of killing the bill…in the Cornyn amendment, if the 90 percent apprehension and 100 percent surveillance metrics are not being met, citizenship doesn’t happen. Here’s why, in the view of immigration advocates, this constitutes a stealth effort to kill reform: It creates the possibility of manipulation of those metrics with the express purpose of killing citizenship.”
  • The Houston Chronicle writes in an editorial entitled, “Cornyn: The Great Pretender?”: “Cornyn denies he’s trying to insert “a poison pill” into the decision-making process, although proponents of reform have a right to be suspicious. He played a similar game during abortive efforts to reform immigration in 2006 and 2007. He also voted against the DREAM Act in 2010… Cornyn, the Senate’s minority whip, insists that his amendment would improve the bill.  ‘I think it will also dramatically improve the chances of immigration reform passing,’ he said.  What the senator is not saying is that he’s up for reelection next year and is worried about a Ted Cruz clone tearing into his vulnerable right flank. A stealth sabotage of immigration reform might inoculate him against a challenger jabbing at him for being soft on the illegals.”
  • The Washington Post editorializes, “Sen. John Cornyn’s 134-page amendment to the ‘Gang of Eight’s’ immigration bill moved this week to the center of the Senate’s floor debate on the overall measure. That’s worrying, because the amendment is more likely to kill reform than to advance it. It would toughen the conditions for demonstrable border security needed to unlock the 13-year path to citizenship for illegal immigrants that is set out in the Gang of Eight’s bill. Most supporters of reform agree that the citizenship path must be accompanied by measures that will discourage future illegal immigration…. Republicans who want to accomplish something this summer, rather than just posturing, continue to look for what Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) called ‘that sweet spot that addresses the Democratic sensibilities and ours.’…They should not let the process be derailed by the mischief of the naysayers.”
  • A USA Today editorial writes, “Taken to extremes, demands for tough enforcement can be used as a tool for killing reform entirely. And that, unfortunately, appears to be the tactic of choice for some Senate Republicans, who don’t want to lose Hispanic votes by opposing a bipartisan immigration bill but don’t particularly want it to pass either… There is still much that needs to be done. The E-Verify system for checking applicants’ status at the workplace needs to be fully deployed. And some form of entry-exit system needs to be phased in. But none of these things should be used as an excuse for ignoring other issues, including the need to bring some 11 million people into the mainstream. Unlike 1986’s political sleight of hand, this year’s legislation is a tough, credible plan for preventing a new surge of illegal immigration. A quest for unattainable perfection should not be allowed to undo the good that it would achieve.”