WASHINGTON — Sen. Kay Hagan on Wednesday announced that she’ll vote for an immigration overhaul that provides a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, saying it will help North Carolina’s economy and strengthen the nation’s border security.
“I’m ready to support a common-sense bill that’s going to fix our broken immigration system so that everybody plays by the same rules today,” the first-term Democrat said. “After listening to a wide variety of stakeholders throughout North Carolina, it’s clear to me supporting bill is the right decision for North Carolina.”
The immigration bill was introduced by a so-called Gang of Eight Republican and Democratic senators who were trying to find a solution to the nation’s immigration problems. It’s expected to pass the Senate on Thursday and has White House support. But it faces obstacles in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where many GOP lawmakers oppose it.
Hagan said an amendment the Senate passed 69-29 on Wednesday to strengthen border security was an important part of what persuaded her to support the bill. It spends $46 billion for 20,000 additional border agents and 700 miles more of fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. The plan also pays for additional cameras, drones and other surveillance equipment.
People throughout the state said “we have to have tough border security protections,” said Hagan, a vulnerable Democrat facing re-election race next year. “To me, that was a major litmus test for me being able to support this bill.”
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., plans to vote against the immigration bill on Thursday, barring any “drastic changes,” his press secretary, Robert Reid, said Wednesday.
Burr doesn’t believe the legislation does enough to stop illegal immigration, Reid said. He voted against the border security amendment. The aide said Burr’s view was that the amendment was throwing money at the problem, but its approach was inadequate.
But Hagan said the immigration legislation would include better entry-exit records at airports and seaports that will prevent visitors from over-staying their visas. It also would make it harder for people to find jobs without the proper authorization because employers would be required to use an employment verification system, she said.
The North Carolina Farm Bureau supports the immigration bill in the Senate. It argues that flaws in the current system limit the ability of farmers to hire enough seasonal workers.
Hagan said other parts of the state’s economy also would benefit. Foreign students who attend the state’s institutions of higher education should be able to start businesses in the state after they graduate, instead of being forced to return to their home countries, she said.
Harvey Schmitt, president and CEO of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, said he hears complaints from technology and life sciences companies about restrictions on green cards for their workers. The legislation would provide more opportunities for people trained in the United States to stay here to work, he said.
“Our university system does draw a lot of foreign talent, outstanding talent,” he said. “Certainly when that takes place, if we train them, it would be nice to be able to take advantage of that talent, and many of our companies would like to do that.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that if passed, the immigration law would lead to an increase of 10.4 million more people living in the United States, compared with the number projected under the current law. CBO estimated that the immigration bill also would lead to about a $160 billion reduction in the federal deficit over the next 10 year, taking into account the border security measures and other costs and benefits. CBO estimated about a $700 billion reduction in the following 10-year period.
“That is certainly moving in the right direction,” Hagan said.
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