Utah’s Lee says immigration bill beyond saving
Senate debate • Utah Republican says the comprehensive Senate measure is beyond saving.
Published: June 7, 2013 12:36PM
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:33PM
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President Barack Obama gestures while speaking in San Jose, Calif. , Friday, June 7, 2013. The White House doesn't care how Congress gets there, but wants immigration reform this year. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Washington • On the first day of the Senate’s immigration debate, Sen. Mike Lee sought to label the bill as too big to succeed, attempting to persuade conservatives to oppose it by tying it to Obamacare, the Wall Street reform law and the Patriot Act.

“What makes any of us, least of all any conservative, believe this immigration bill will work out any better?” he said on the Senate floor Friday. “We need to face the fact that 1,000-page bureaucratic overhauls simply do not achieve their desired goals, and they create far more problems than they tend to solve.”

Lee, R-Utah, opposed the bill when it was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he made it clear he would fight it throughout the expected three-week debate in the full Senate.

“There is no one amendment that can fix this bill,” he said. “Indeed, there is no series of tinkering changes to turn this mess of a bill into the reform this country needs.”

In December, at the request of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Lee joined the new bipartisan Gang of Eight that eventually drafted this bill, but Lee bowed out of the effort early on because he couldn’t support its path to citizenship. That 13-year long path, which would start just six months after the bill is enacted, remains at the center of his criticism.

He believes it is too light on immigrants here illegally and is offered too early in the process, predicting it would encourage others to enter the country without a visa.

Lee proposes a series of smaller immigration bills passed over a number of years, allowing Congress to ensure that the border is secure, that employers can verify the legal status of workers and that the legal immigration system is streamlined before taking action on the 11 million people in the country illegally.

President Barack Obama, Senate Democrats and even a group of Republicans, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, oppose this approach, calling for a broad reform of the nation’s immigration laws this year. Hatch supported the bill in committee and is seeking a few amendments on tax and welfare issues that he believes will shore up conservative support.

The bill’s proponents argue Congress has a moral imperative to bring unauthorized immigrants out of the shadows as soon as possible. They argue doing so would help the economy by providing businesses with needed labor and bring in new tax revenue.

The House, which is controlled by Republicans, has so far rejected the Senate’s approach and is drafting its own series of sequential bills, more in line with Lee’s thinking. It is expected, however, that the House measures would try to deal with each piece of the immigration puzzle this year and not over a series of years.

Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, sees no problem with the House carving the reform effort into pieces, as long as they work with the Senate to create a new immigration system by year’s end.

“We don’t expect this debate to be easy,” she said. “I don’t see an approach that puts up several immigration bills as opposed to one immigration bill as a detriment necessarily.”

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham