Democrats Whipping Ayotte Amendment, With Immigration Politics Center Stage

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:13 p.m. | Senate Democrats have begun whipping an amendment from Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., to the stalled jobless benefits bill, hoping to use it as a political hammer against GOP senators who are looking to the measure to cater to their conservative bases.

Sources confirmed that Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin's vote-counting operation over the weekend started gauging whether Democrats could stand firm against the proposal that would eliminate tax credits for the children of undocumented immigrants, millions of whom are American citizens. Similar legislation previously had been championed by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who lacked support for the initiative and failed in multiple attempts to bring it to the floor.

Democrats say they are checking with their caucus to ensure they would have enough votes to block the Ayotte measure in the event they offer a vote on it to Republicans in exchange for support on cloture of the bill. The result would be a rare political test vote that could be embraced by both parties in the opening days of 2014. Republicans fearful of primaries can prove their conservative bona fides "by stopping a scheme that currently [benefits] illegal immigrants," according to a press advisory last week. Democrats in turn can use the measure as an example of how the GOP is anti-immigrant to the point of taking punitive measure against millions of legal citizens, even in the chamber that approved a comprehensive immigration overhaul. From the Roll Call story last week, on Democrats' concerns with the Ayotte bill:

But the Democrats’ bigger issue with the proposal is just who would be affected by eliminating the “loophole” created by not requiring Social Security numbers to qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit. Any person born in the United States is by Constitutional definition a United States citizen, even if their parents are not. According to a Pew Hispanic analysis in 2010 (the most recent of its kind), more than 4 million American-born children of undocumented parents lived in the U.S. — nearly 80 percent of all children of undocumented immigrant parents under the age of 18.

"The payment of Federal funds through this tax benefit appears to provide an additional incentive for aliens to enter, reside, and work in the United States without authorization, which contradicts Federal law and policy to remove such incentives," the report said.

has expressed an openness to amendments