Baucus, Tester Halt Immigration Debate

Senators’ Measure To Get Rid Of REAL ID Stalls Sweeping Immigration Bill

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester brought the debate over immigration reform to a grinding halt today on the Senate floor. After opponents of Baucus and Tester's amendment to strike REAL ID requirements failed to muster a majority of votes, debate on the controversial immigration bill came to a standstill.

Baucus and Tester's provision strikes language from the immigration bill that requires employers to check the eligibility of their prospective employees only using identification documents that comply with REAL ID, a federal mandate the Montana senators say amounts to a national ID system.

Opponents failed to kill the Baucus-Tester amendment today on a thin 45-52 vote. It wasn't immediately clear what effect the vote will have on the underlying bill, but opponents have called the provisions a "deal breaker" as it relates to the whole immigration bill. Baucus said he thinks the vote is a "death knell to a bad immigration bill." Senate business, which was early slated to extend into Wednesday evening, halted for the night after the controversial Baucus-Tester vote.

"We scored a major victory today in our efforts to protect privacy and defeat a bad immigration bill at the same time," said Baucus, Montana's senior U.S. Senator. "If Jon and I just brought down the entire bill, that's good for Montana and the country." 

REAL ID requires states to standardize their driver's licenses and build costly new databases that the federal government can access, essentially creating a national ID system.  Earlier this year, the Montana Legislature unanimously passed legislation refusing to implement the program because it invades privacy and can expose private information to identity thieves, and because of its enormous cost.

Tester, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and a staunch supporter of privacy rights, said REAL ID isn't needed to toughen national security.

"If by fighting to keep government out of people's private lives, Max Baucus and I stopped the senate from passing this flawed immigration bill, then this was a real victory for Montana and the American people," Tester said.

Baucus and Tester cited several other reasons for their amendment:
·Employers don't need REAL ID to verify the eligibility of their employees.  They currently check eligibility using existing documents, such as birth certificates, a drivers license, or a passport.

·More and more states are rejecting the REAL ID Act.  Fifteen other states in addition to Montana have enacted legislation opposing or refusing to implement the program.

The immigration bill only authorizes $1.5 billion for REAL ID, although estimates put the actual cost for states as high as $23 billion.