(WASHINGTON) — There they stood: four Democrats and four Republicans, the Senate Gang of 8, publicly promising to fight for an immigration reform bill introduced Tuesday.
The bill would beef up border security with $4.5 billion worth of drones, sensors and border patrol agents, while offering America’s undocumented a 13-year path to citizenship if they undergo background checks, pay fines, keep clear of felonies, and learn English and civics.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., opened the historic news conference by citing the compromise.
“We are here to announce that eight senators from opposite sides of the political aisle are coming together on a common-sense immigration reform proposal that we believe can pass the Senate,” Schumer said. “If you would have seen that room in any of our 24 meetings and see everyone argue strongly but come together…it was a sight that would give you some faith in the future of our democracy.”
The senators each have something on the line in backing the controversial bill.
Joining Schumer were Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menedez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
But it is Tea Party favorite Rubio who may have the most at stake and is key to the bill’s success.
He joked Thursday by feigning a walk away from the podium.
“I changed my mind, I’m leaving,” he said.
Schumer quipped “not again,” prompting laughter from the audience.
Rubio is seen as the GOP’s right flank protection, blessing a bill that is seen by many of his fellow conservatives as “amnesty” for immigrants who crossed the border illegally and are now being rewarded with a chance to become citizens.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., held a separate news conference Thursday, saying, “Today, if the bill passes, illegal immigrants will have the presumption of amnesty.”
Rubio urged compassion from his fellow conservatives, saying, “It’s tragic that a nation of immigrants remains divided on the issue of immigration.”
The senators said they are open to new ideas and amendments as the bill goes through the legislative process but made it clear they will fight so-called “poison pill” amendments introduced solely to derail the new laws.
Graham vowed to “fight for this bill.”
A footnote on this historic day: Both Sens. Rubio and Menendez repeated many of their remarks in Spanish, perhaps a nod to changing American demographics.
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