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Republicans issue warnings on US immigration bill

Speaker of the House John Boehner (L) at the US Capitol June 12, 2013 in Washington, DC
Speaker of the House John Boehner (L) at the US Capitol June 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Landmark US immigration reform inched forward in the Senate Tuesday but Boehner warned the legislation would go nowhere unless there was majority support from his Rep

Landmark US immigration reform inched forward in the Senate Tuesday but the House leader warned the legislation would go nowhere unless there was majority support from his Republican Party.

The Senate is spending most of this week and next debating the massive bill, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, reduce unlawful crossings at the US-Mexico border and revise guest worker programs for agriculture and high-tech industries.

But some Republicans have warned the provisions on border security, which supporters on both sides of the political aisle say would be the strongest ever with drone surveillance and extended fencing, are too weak to earn broad support from their caucus.

That could prove crucial, House Speaker John Boehner said he told his caucus in a closed-door session, because "I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have a majority support of Republicans."

Boehner has said he aims to begin debate on a House immigration bill in the coming month.

But on Tuesday, hours before the Senate cast its first votes on amendments to its bill, he slammed that legislation as "weak on border security."

And the so-called triggers that would make legalizing immigrants contingent on meeting specific goals for securing the border were "almost laughable," Boehner said.

His criticism matched that of Republican Senator John Cornyn, who lamented the Senate's rejection of provisions including more fencing along the border.

"If they won't take reasonable measures to deal with the border security concerns of the American people, I don't think we're going to get an immigration bill," Cornyn said.

Cornyn has introduced a bill that would require a biometric exit system and apprehension rates for illegals of at least 90 percent in effect before the provisional immigrants can earn green cards, but approval is unlikely.

Sixty votes are needed for the overall bill to pass the 100-seat Senate, but members of the Gang of Eight, the four Democrats and four Republicans who crafted the bill, say they want a 70-vote majority to compel the House to act.

The House Judiciary Committee meanwhile held a hearing Tuesday on a Republican proposal that would give state and local authorities more power to arrest immigrants for overstaying visas or entering the country illegally.

That bill is strongly opposed by Democrats, who warned it could sap any goodwill Republicans may have built after the 2012 election, when President Barack Obama's sweep of 70 percent of the Hispanic vote helped him defeat Republican Mitt Romney.

"Come back to your senses. Do not push forward a bill that criminalizes every immigrant family," said congressman Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat who is co-authoring the House legislation.

Gutierrez said he wants to see broad bipartisan support for the strongest immigration reform in a generation, but he warned Republicans that they would face harsh political consequences if they derail it.

"If you want to hang yourself on the immigration issue, who am I to stop you?" he said.

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