It’s a Big Day for the Immigration Debate: Here’s What You Need to Know

It’s a big day for immigration reform.

With debate surrounding the immigration bill continuing to rage, President Barack Obama is set to convene a Monday afternoon meeting of CEOs and business leaders to tout what the White House says are the economic benefits of a landmark immigration bill. And hours later, the Senate is set to hold a key test vote on a border security amendment — one that could help the bill garner more Republican support.


The Bill’s Contested Economic Impact

Obama is expected to highlight new estimates about the bill’s impact on the national deficit — arguments that he hopes will sway individuals and businesses to adopt his views on the contentious social issue. The Congressional Budget Office says the law would reduce the deficit by about $200 billion over the next 10 years and by about $700 billion over the following decade.

Considering the nation’s dire finances, such a prospect will be appealing to some on both sides of the aisle.

In this June 19, 2013, photo, Tea Party activists attend a rally on the grounds of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Six months after Hispanics overwhelmingly helped return President Barack Obama to office and control of the Senate to Democrats, House Speaker John Boehner is the face of the GOP effort to bite into that base of support _ or at least stop alienating a demographic that accounts for 17 percent of the nation. That means getting a new policy on immigration, perhaps the most delicate political dance of Boehner’s career. Credit: AP

But others decry the plan, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. Consider the conservative Heritage Foundation’s response, which details a number of concerns about the bill’s potential impact. Among them, contrary to the CBO’s estimate, the organization believes that the immigration overhaul would actually cost taxpayers “trillions”:

In addition to concerns of rule of law and fairness, amnesty will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. This is because some taxpayers contribute more in taxes than they receive in government benefits, while others consume more than they contribute. Most unlawful immigrants fall into this second category of net tax consumers. Even now unlawful immigrant households consume $14,387 more in benefits than they pay in taxes on average. Current unlawful immigrants receive public education for their children and services at the state and local levels, such as policing, fire protection, road use, and sewer maintenance. Illegal immigrants on average do not pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of these services. In addition, roughly half of illegal immigrants have minor children who were born in the U.S. These children are eligible for nearly all federal means-tested welfare programs including food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The total cost of means-tested welfare to these children comes to around $17 billion per year. Under current law, illegal immigrant households receive about $2.40 in government benefits for every $1.00 paid in taxes. The overall cost to taxpayers (total benefits minus total taxes) is $54 billion per year.

S. 744 would provide millions of these immigrants with amnesty, eventually entitling them to extensive new benefits. Indeed, a recent Heritage study indicates that the net cost of amnesty for all unlawful immigrants would be at least $6.3 trillion. These costs must be paid by current taxpayers, either by increased taxes or reduced benefits. While S. 744 does not grant every unlawful immigrant amnesty, it would grant it to the vast majority, leading to trillions in new costs.

With the test vote coming tonight, it’s possible that the Senate will vote on the bill by the end of the week. Already, senators in support of the proposed law are claiming that they have 70 votes in support of the measure, including some Republicans who have crossed over to back it.

While only 51 votes are needed for passage, the goal is to gain 70 votes in an effort to show that widespread support exists on both sides of the aisle. Senate majority leader Harry Reid appears confident that this number is attainable.


The New Border Amendment and Its Potential Impact

The border amendment that was added to the Senate bill last week — one that would offer up tens of thousands more border agents and a longer fence to protect against permeability — assisted in helping to bridge the divide for critics who felt that there wasn’t enough being done in the bill to address security concerns. CBS News has more about the border plan:

Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., unveiled a “border surge” plan on Thursday that, if adopted, would dramatically increase the resources devoted to border security under the Senate’s immigration bill. The proposal would double the number of Border Patrol agents from 20,000 to 40,000, spend billions of dollars on enhanced surveillance equipment for the border, and double the amount of border fencing required by the bill, from 350 to 700 miles.

Crucially, the proposal would also require all the enhanced border security elements to be in place and operational before undocumented immigrants can receive a green card and begin trekking the path to citizenship.

This plan may certainly sway some Republicans, but there’s a potential snag that critics are highlighting — a line in the immigration bill that would seemingly allow Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to axe additional border security plans (plus, there are some other issues with increased border security, as outlined by Politico).

As Breitbart notes, on page 35, line 24 Napolitano or future officials in her position could decide that not building the fence is a better and more viable option.

“Notwithstanding paragraph (1), nothing in this subsection shall require the Secretary to install fencing, or infrastructure that directly results from the installation of such fencing, in a particular location along the Southern border, if the Secretary determines that the use or placement of such resources is not the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain effective control over the Southern border at such location,” the text reads.

And the referenced paragraph (1) reads: “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall establish a strategy, to be known as the ‘Southern Border Fencing Strategy,’ to identify where 700 miles of fencing (including double-layer fencing), infrastructure, and technology, including at ports of entry, should be deployed along the Southern border.”

Considering these issues, Napolitano’s comments earlier this year about the border being stronger may further cause concern among critics. Watch these statements, below:

This provision, of course, gives credence to some critics like Bill Kristol who maintain that the 1,200-page bill hasn’t necessarily been read by Republicans. Watch his comments about the immigration plan and Republican support, below:


The Bill’s Uncertain Future

Despite the Senate’s potential passage of the bill, the immigration overhaul faces a much more uncertain future in the House of Representatives, where Republicans, who are in control, are less enthusiastic about its provisions. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that the bill is “dead on arrival” in the House.

Whether that will be the case remains to be seen, but the predictions coming from most supportive senators seem to indicate that the battle in the House will be more fervent than the one that unfolds in the Senate.

The American public also appears divided on the immigration issue, as a new USA Today/Pew Research Center Poll yielded some intriguing results. While three out of four of those surveyed agree with the arguments of those who support the bill (that deporting illegals isn’t realistic and that providing a path to citizenship is viable), nearly two-thirds also agree with critics’ views — that these individuals could end up draining government services and that more illegals may arrive in the U.S. as a result of the legislation (read the results).

As Congress prepares to vote and continue debate on this issue, there’s no telling how it will end. While the immigration bill could certainly make its way through both the House and Senate, if a favorable result unfolds, it won’t be without a great deal of additional fanfare and debate. As it currently stands, passage won’t be an easy feat.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related Contributions: