Wednesday, June 26, 2013 | 1:05 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Nevada Sen. Dean Heller finally committed to the immigration bill he’d been hinting he’d support Wednesday afternoon, warning that “to do nothing now amounts for de facto amnesty.”
“From the very beginning of this debate, I have said that our nation needs immigration reform,” Heller said on the Senate floor. “The border security portion of this legislation has been addressed, and for that reason, I can support this bill.”
Heller is referring to a sweeping border security amendment that the Senate adopted by a vote of 69 to 29 Wednesday morning, after clearing an important procedural threshold on the same measure by a vote of 67 to 27 Monday night.
Heller was one of just over a dozen Republicans who joined Democrats to vote for the measure, which members of the Gang of 8 from both parties hailed as a “breakthrough” for immigration reform.
Heller played a role in designing that amendment, which doubles the amount of fencing and the number of border troops along the U.S.-Mexico border, mandates worker verification through E-Verify and rolls out a new entry-exit surveillance system at airports and other ports of entry to the U.S. to better track and prevent visa overstays.
Though Heller has been stumping for the amendment for at least a week now, he has refused to firmly dedicate his support for immigration reform.
Heller also took aim at critics Wednesday who have alleged his reasoning and his vote are a cheap political gesture.
“Working with members from both sides of the aisle does not mean you’re turning your back on your principles,” Heller argued, saying Republicans could support immigration reform “and still stay true to conservative principles.”
“The easy thing to do politically is nothing,” Heller said. “The harder choice is to govern.”
Heller’s remarks come just hours before the Senate is expected to vote on final passage of comprehensive immigration reform, a vote likely to take place Thursday or Friday.
But in Nevada, supporters didn’t care that Heller was slow show his support, as long as he did in the end.
“Over the past months and years we have seen countless Nevadans stand up and speak out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that protects workers’ rights, keeps our families together and creates an attainable pathway to citizenship,” Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-Cio said in a statement after Heler’s announcement. “Today, we are proud to count Sen. Dean Heller among those supporters, and thank him for his effort and his vote.”