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Washington • Two of Sen. Orrin Hatch's ideas are tucked into a "border surge" amendment that is expected to draw considerable Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform.
And for the first time, Hatch, R-Utah, hinted he may still vote for the bill even if it doesn't include his proposals on back taxes and Obamacare benefits.
"No legislation is perfect and I would have written it differently. Having said that, the reality is that there are 11 million people living with de facto amnesty today avoiding taxes and obligations that American citizens have," he said in a statement. "Our immigration system is broken and not doing anything isn't a solution."
The Senate is slated to take up a package of amendments Monday that would double the number of border agents from 20,000 to 40,000, demand the completion of 700 miles of border fence and expand drone surveillance on the boundary between Mexico and the United States.
Backers of the broad immigration bill see the Corker-Hoeven deal as a key step toward getting at least 70 votes when the Senate acts late next week. They say a commanding majority will pressure the GOP-controlled House to act on immigration reform.
Hatch is a co-sponsor of the deal negotiated by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., because he said the bill needed tougher border-security provisions. But he also likes it because it includes two of his amendments dealing with newly legalized immigrants. One prohibits undocumented workers from counting past wages toward Social Security eligibility and the other prevents the government from providing welfare to immigrants until they become citizens.
These were two of four changes Hatch has demanded in exchange for supporting the bill, and they were the less controversial ones.
He has called for an additional five-year ban on federal health subsidies under Obamacare for unauthorized immigrants who get a green card. He also wants to ensure these immigrants pay back taxes and penalties on any wages they earned while in the country illegally.
Hatch said it is a matter of fairness, but the primary backers say the back taxes amendment would be unwieldy and delay the legalization process.
Hatch said Friday he would still press for a vote on his back taxes amendment before the Senate takes a final vote on the bill late next week. He hasn't decided if he will continue to push the health care proposal.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has been one of the Senate's chief opponents to the legislation that he argues should be broken into pieces, with border security, workplace enforcement and new visa rules put in place well before the government takes action on undocumented immigrants.