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The Struggle to Define the Immigration Debate

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Gohmert, left, and King held a news conference Tuesday to outline their problems with the Senate’s bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

That friendly rhetoric was coupled with policy proposals that many pro-immigration-overhaul advocates decry.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, charged that President Barack Obama wants to offer legal status to any immigrant without discretion and have that be the condition on which he agrees to secure the border.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., laid out another demand: Limit the legalization of immigrants to only those that the fragile U.S. economy can support and those who bring tangible job skills and financial resources.

Momentum in the Senate appears to be growing for the immigration overhaul authored by the chamber’s bipartisan “gang of eight.”

The entire Judiciary panel — save Sessions — rejected, 1-17, the Alabama Republican’s proposal to limit the number of new immigrants admitted annually to the United States to 1.2 million, as well as cap temporary workers authorized to work per year at 1 million.

Sessions’ proposal was met with widespread opposition, including from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. He argued making the legal system work better decreases illegal immigration.

“One of the ways we make the border secure is in improving or streamlining legal immigration, and I am a full-throated advocate of legal immigration,” he said.

The panel also rejected, 6-12, a Sessions amendment to require use of a biometric entry and exit data system before the Department of Homeland Security can allow illegal immigrants to move beyond the initial provisional status granted by the bill.

“This is a big, big hole in the system,” Sessions said, suggesting that a lack of such a provision feeds public doubt that Congress is serious about enhancing enforcement before granting legalization.

Sessions said the problem lies largely with inadequate use of technology on the exit side of the issue, noting that visa overstays contribute substantially to the number of illegal immigrants in the United States.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the Senate group, said the legislation’s new photographic requirements are sufficient, noting the high cost of biometric technology, which includes such identifiers as fingerprints, facial recognition and iris scans.

The bipartisan group that crafted the Senate bill held firm on the issue, with GOP group members Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona joining all panel Democrats to oppose the amendment.

Joanna Anderson contributed to this report.

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