By CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN
Immigration reform advocates blasted Democrats on Friday for pushing a $600 million border security bill through the Senate, accusing them of trying to placate Republicans who will never be satisfied with the government’s enforcement efforts.
“It is really unfortunate, misguided and a major political misstep,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, an immigrant rights group. “There will need to be a lot of repair work by the Democrat leadership with the immigrant advocacy community.”
In an unexpected move Thursday night, Senate Democrats won approval of a $600 million bill that includes money for 1,500 new border personnel, a pair of unmanned drones and military-style bases along the border. The bill by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), which fulfills a request from President Barack Obama, heads to the House for a final vote as early as next week.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Schumer and McCaskill told reporters in a conference call Friday that the bill paves the way for consideration of a comprehensive reform bill.
“My view is that we had a whole lot of people, both moderate Democrats and Republicans, who said they wouldn’t consider comprehensive reform until we did something about the border,” Schumer said. “It is smart, it is tough, it not punitive. It furthers the ability to get comprehensive reform done.”
But advocates said Republicans outsmarted Democrats, calling their bluff by agreeing to pass the bill by unanimous consent Thursday night. Schumer had introduced the bill only a few hours earlier, leading advocates to surmise that the Democrats never expected the GOP to accept the measure.
“They ate the Democrats’ lunch,” Bhargava said of Republicans, adding that the immigrant advocacy community was in “shock.”
The sharp criticism from immigration groups underscores the divide between advocates and congressional Democrats on political strategy.
Advocates want Democrats to remain focused on passing a comprehensive reform bill that includes a legalization program for 11 million undocumented immigrants, as well as a temporary worker program, an employment verification system and border security measures.
Passing a stand-alone border bill eliminated a bargaining chip for Democrats, they said.
Republicans won't consider any measures other than those that boost enforcement. And since Democrats do not have the numbers to move a comprehensive overhaul on their own, they are trying to meet Republican demands — in hopes that the GOP will accede to a broader reform early next year.
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