WASHINGTON (AP) - A bill to enact dramatic changes to the nation's immigration system and put some 11 million immigrants here illegally on a path to citizenship is facing its first congressional test.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday was to begin considering proposed changes to the 844-page legislation, with some 300 amendments pending on a wide range of issues that included border security and workplace enforcement, along with Democratic-authored measures to make the legislation more welcoming to immigrant families.
A focus throughout the committee session, expected to last about two weeks, will be on whether the four committee members who are among the so-called Gang of Eight senators who authored the legislation can stick together to protect against efforts to chip away at the bill's core provisions.
The lawmakers in question are Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Their legislation aims to secure the border, provide new avenues for workers to come to the U.S. legally, crack down on employers who would hire people here illegally, and provide eventual citizenship to millions already in the country.
Although the bill allows citizenship to go forward only after certain border security goals have been met, those "triggers" haven't proven convincing enough for many GOP lawmakers. Early fights in the committee session are likely to center on that issue, according to the schedule laid out by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee's chairman.
Even one of the bill's authors, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has said border measures need to be stronger, so some changes may be accepted. But measures offered by some Republican senators would dramatically change the bill's delicately crafted compromises in a way its authors are unlikely to accept.
Rubio conceded in a broadcast interview Thursday that some amendments could be seen as attempts to thwart the legislation, but said he thought most were intended to refine and improve it, saying "that's the way the process is supposed to work."
He called the work of the Gang of Eight "an excellent starting point" and said there is overwhelming support among the American people, including social conservatives, for immigration changes as long as they tighten border security. He said in an interview on "CBS This Morning" that the public wants legislation that would ensure that "this illegal immigration wave doesn't happen again."
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the top committee Republican, has filed an amendment to prohibit anyone from obtaining legal status until the Homeland Security Department has maintained "effective control" of the border for six months - a potentially arduous standard to reach, depending upon how it is defined.
Such measures are "designed to undermine critical components of the bill," Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, which supports the legislation, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.