WASHINGTON -- Two senators working on a sweeping immigration bill said it's not a question of whether it would pass the Senate, but by how much.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., members of the so-called Gang of Eight that crafted the immigration plan, said they believed the bill could reach 70 votes in the Senate, sending a message to the House of Representatives of the bill's overwhelming support.
"We're looking not to get 61 votes -- obviously that's the minimum. I'd like to get ... a majority on both sides," Schumer said during a breakfast Thursday hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.
"I think that's very doable," McCain added.
While Washington hasn't revamped the nation's immigration laws since President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1986 that legalized up to 3 million unauthorized immigrants, McCain and Schumer struck a confident tone Thursday morning that they could get their bill through Congress.
The 844-page bill would allow the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants to become U.S. citizens within 13 years, would add $8.5 billion to further secure the nation's borders and would fundamentally alter the nation's legal immigration system to bring in more skilled workers.
Several Republican members of Congress have tried to slow down the bill. And Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Boston Marathon bombings should prompt lawmakers to more closely scrutinize the national security implications of the Gang of Eight's immigration bill.
Schumer dismissed such talk, saying their bill "might've made a difference" in the Boston case. Part of the bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to implement a system to better track every time someone enters and exits the United States, and that could have avoided one of the possible missteps in the Boston case.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspects in the case who died during a chase with police, was on a government watch list, but Schumer said U.S. authorities were not fully aware of his trip to Russia's Caucasus in 2012 because his airline misspelled his name.
"Under our bill, the name would've been machine-read ... and they would've known exactly who he was," Schumer said, referring to passport-reading technology that could be implemented for all entries and exits under the bill.
Both senators also fought back against suggestions that the pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants could be watered down. The bill currently allows most of the nation's unauthorized immigrants to become U.S. citizens in 13 years after they pass a criminal background check, pay taxes, fees and $2,000 in fines, learn English and maintain employment.
McCain said proposals to grant a temporary legal status to the nation's unauthorized immigrants, but not allow them to seek permanent residency or U.S. citizenship, "offends our fundamental principles of fairness."
"Any attempt to say in the House that it will not have a path to citizenship will be a non-starter," Schumer said. "I say that unequivocally, it will not pass the Senate. I don't think it'll get a Democratic vote."
The Senate Judiciary Committee held three hearings on the bill over the past week, and plan to start voting on the bill in early May. A bipartisan group of House members is developing its own immigration that it hopes to unveil in the coming weeks.
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