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Kirk, step up on immigration

Reform effort needs his vote

Published: Friday, June 14, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte stuck her neck out this past weekend, declaring her support for the immigration reform bill that will hit the floor this week. That makes her the first Republican, outside of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that drafted the bill, to endorse the measure.

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, where are you?

Kirk’s name invariably appears on the short list of moderate Republican senators who could help provide the handful of votes necessary to defeat a filibuster. But he’s still uncommitted.

He’s been lobbied endlessly by immigrants who want to live and work here legally, and by businesses that want to hire them. He represents a state in which immigrants accounted for more than half the population growth measured in the last U.S. census.

But his office is still offering the same tired statement: “Sen. Kirk has long said that any immigration reform proposal must first restore the American people’s confidence in their government’s ability to control the border. Once that confidence is restored, Sen. Kirk believes bipartisan reform can improve our broken immigration system. Sen. Kirk will closely review the bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee with these principles in mind.”

That’s a disappointingly passive position from Kirk, who could be a game-changer in this debate. Our immigration system, to quote Ayotte, “is unworthy of a great nation.” It must be fixed. If Kirk isn’t ready to support the bill, he should be actively working to make it better, not waiting to see if he likes the finished product. He’s come out in favor of citizenship for immigrants who are combat veterans. That’s not going to move the ball.

Here’s the math:

Supporters are counting on all but two or three of the 54 Democratic caucus votes. Call it 51.

Then there are the four Republicans who helped write the legislation, assuming – as we are – that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida isn’t flirting with defection. That’s 55.

Ayotte makes 56. The magic number is 60.

Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Dean Heller (Nevada) are frequently mentioned, along with Kirk, as likely supporters. Ten or 12 other Republicans are considered “gettable.”

As recently as late May, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was talking about 70 votes. But it’s Rubio, not Reid, who can deliver the crucial votes – and last week Rubio sounded like he had one foot out the door. ...

The bill’s approach, known as comprehensive immigration reform, attempts to balance security concerns against the nation’s labor needs while addressing the legal status of 11 million immigrants who are here without permission.

Many conservatives don’t want to talk about legalizing immigrants until the border has been sealed, period.

The problem is that senators who demand greater border security before they’ll support the bill fall into two camps: the ones who can be satisfied, and the ones who can’t. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.

The bill already contains up to $6.5 billion more to lock down the border, even though illegal crossings are at their lowest levels in decades.

The nation needs immigration reform. It needs leadership.

Again we ask, Where is Sen. Mark Kirk?

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