Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander were among supporters of an Immigration Bill that passed the Senate on Thursday, 68-32.
Senator Corker said, “This is the toughest border security measure to ever pass the Senate, and from economic, national security, deficit-reduction and moral standpoints, it’s the right thing to do. Because of the amendment Senator Hoeven and I added to the bill, this legislation requires an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents and at least 700 miles of fencing along the southern border, full implementation and activation of $4.5 billion in surveillance technology, an electronic visa entry/exit system, and a mandated E-Verify system for all employers. Passage of this bill gets us one step closer to securing our border in a dramatic way and to solving the immigration problem that we have struggled with for decades.”
Senator Alexander said, “It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress and the president to fix our broken immigration system. Senator Corker’s amendment dramatically strengthens border security. The bill ends de facto amnesty and creates a system of legal immigration. Now it goes to the House of Representatives to improve the legislation and finish the job.”
As a result of Senator Corker’s amendment, which Senator Alexander co-sponsored, the legislation would add 20,000 border patrol agents. That would double the number of agents on the southwest U.S. border, which would be enough to station one agent every 1,000 feet. The legislation would also require the construction of 700 miles of new or upgraded fencing and spend $3.2 billion on new security technology that was proven in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The border patrol agents, fencing and security technology plan would have to be in place before an adult immigrant under the immigration legislation’s “Registered Provisional Immigrant” program would be allowed to apply for legal permanent residency, otherwise known as a green card.
The U.S. House of Representatives is still considering immigration reform, and the legislation the Senate passed today would require approval by the House and president before becoming law. The House could also opt to produce its own legislation, and Senator Alexander said the House “should have as its goal to further strengthen border security, end de facto amnesty and create a system of legal immigration.”
Rep. Scott DesJarlais was critical of the bill. He said, “The Senate immigration proposal is the ObamaCare of immigration: A broad, comprehensive bill fraught with unintended consequences and unexpected results. I will fight to make sure this bill never reaches the floor of the United States House of Representatives.
“Providing a pathway to citizenship before securing the border is putting the cart before the horse. Before overhauling our nation’s immigration system, we should first ensure we are enforcing the laws that are already on the books. The United States has always had a generous legal immigration policy, but we simply cannot grant amnesty to those who choose to break the law.”
Senator Alexander said, "The most important issue for me in the immigration debate was improving border security. The amendment to immigration reform by Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) takes dramatic steps to secure the border.
"Before any newly registered immigrants can apply for a green card, the federal government must take the following actions to secure the border:
"1. Add 20,000 border patrol agents, enough to double the number of agents and station one agent every 1,000 feet along the southwest U.S. border.
"2. Build 700 miles of new or upgraded fencing.
"3. Spend $3.2 billion on new security technology that was perfected in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"4. Ensure 100 percent deployment of the E-Verify system that requires employers to verify that new employees are legally present and authorized to work in the United States.
"5. Fully implement at sea and air ports a biometric entry and exit system that verifies the identity of foreigners visiting the United States.
"Only after these five steps would the process of permanent legal residency – also known as a green card – for newly registered adult immigrants begin. A newly registered adult immigrant cannot apply for a green card, until, they:
"1. Pay a fine, pay back taxes, enroll in English courses and prove they have no criminal record.
"2. Wait 10 years. (Young people who were brought by their parents would have to wait five years.)
"3. Get in the back of the line behind people who came here through the normal legal processes.
"The opportunity to apply for citizenship would have to come after an immigrant has received a green card.
"Registered Provisional Immigrants will not be eligible for federal need-based benefit programs like Obamacare health insurance subsidies, non-emergency Medicaid and food stamps. If these immigrants qualify for and receive a green card after waiting 10 years, most will have to wait an additional five years before receiving any of these federal benefits.
"It is the constitutional responsibility of the president and Congress to create an immigration system that respects the rule of law. City councils and state legislatures cannot do that. I voted to secure the border, to end de facto amnesty for 11 million people and to establish a system of legal immigration in place of our broken system. Under our constitutional system of government, it is now time for the Republican U.S. House of Representatives to improve upon the Senate’s progress on this issue and finish the job."
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition applauded passage of the bill.
Officials said, "Today, Senators Corker and Alexander represented the will of 77 percent of Tennesseans and cast critical votes to pass historic immigration reform legislation in the Senate. The bill cleared the Senate with a bipartisan majority of 68-32.
"The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition has advocated for a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans for a decade. As a result of the tireless efforts of immigrant families and allies to make Tennessee a more welcoming state for everyone, our Senators chose to demonstrate real leadership and move immigration reform forward. Now, our nation is one step closer to aligning our immigration policies with our values of family, fairness, and opportunity. The bill is far from perfect; the massive build-up at the Southern border will have serious ramifications for border communities and American taxpayers, and we will work vigorously to change these provisions before this bill becomes law. However, the path to citizenship—the heart of this bill—is largely intact and will provide relief for millions of immigrant families around the country.
"The recent Congressional Budget Office analysis shows that the bipartisan Senate bill would decrease the federal deficit by $175 billion over the next 10-year period. In a 20-year outlook, the CBO estimated that comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship would further decrease the federal deficit by another $700 billion by 2033."
Karla Chavez, Tennessee community activist, said, "I have fought for immigration reform that will keep my family together for the past nine years. Finally, our nation is moving towards immigration policies that are consistent with our American values. The community is celebrating this victory but also continuing to push our representatives in the House to understand the momentum behind immigration reform. While the nation is on the verge of history, my family is one step closer to living without the fear of separation. As the bill moves to the House, I hope our representatives will follow the leadership of the Senate and remember that immigration reform is about keeping families together."