Updated: 9 p.m.
The Senate approved a $600 million border security bill Thursday that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) brought to the floor expecting Republicans to reject.
The bill was passed under unanimous consent, sending it to the House. But a House Democratic aide said it is unlikely the chamber will take it up next week, when Members return from recess to vote on an education and state funding bill.
“There’s no doubt we were surprised given their past objections,” Schumer said Thursday night about Senate Republicans’ decision to support his bill. “But it was a pleasant surprise that could well pave the way for comprehensive immigration reform.”
He has pursued comprehensive reform for more than a year, but the work has stalled in the face of near-unanimous GOP opposition.
In light of public concern over illegal immigration — and a new immigration law in Arizona fanning the flames of public discontent — Schumer decided to pursue the narrower border bill.
The measure calls for deploying 1,500 new Border Patrol and immigration agents, as well as increasing funding for unmanned aerial border patrols. The cost of the bill would be offset by raising the fees on foreign corporations that “abuse” visa programs to bring workers to the United States from India and other foreign countries.
Republicans have rejected a handful of previous attempts to pass similar bills, arguing for significantly larger bills paid for with unused economic stimulus funds. Schumer, the Senate Democratic Conference vice chairman, said earlier Thursday that Democrats would “ask for unanimous consent to pass this before we leave … [to] expose whether people want to secure the borders or just want an issue” for this fall’s elections.
But after Democrats rejected a handful of his amendments Thursday evening, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked that he and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) be added as co-sponsors, saying the bill is a “step forward.” McCain said Republicans would not oppose the unanimous consent agreement.
The pronouncement caught Schumer off guard, and he temporarily withdrew his unanimous consent request as Democratic floor staff and his aides huddled.
During the break, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) indicated on the floor that he was not going to object to the bill’s passage. While arguing that more needs to be done to secure the country’s borders, he said, “I will be thankful for what we’ve got. … One thousand two hundred [border agents] is a step in the right direction.”
A short time later, Schumer renewed his request. “This bipartisan effort shows we are serious about making the border more secure than ever,” he later said. “Now our attention must turn to comprehensive reform, which is the only way to fully address the problem of illegal immigration.”