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Battle for votes begins as Senate prepares to debate immigration bill

House is preparing its own legislation


J. Scott Applewhite / AP

A bipartisan group of leading senators announce that they have reached agreement on the principles of sweeping legislation to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. From left are Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The Senate's immigration reform legislation made it out of the Judiciary Committee last week and is scheduled for debate in front of the full Senate the week of June 10.

Between now and then, advocates and opponents will try to sway politicians, and the lawmakers themselves will angle for their undecided colleagues to join their side.

Late last week, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told Univision: "We don't currently have 60 votes identified in the Senate."

Sixty votes would be needed to close debate in case of a potential filibuster. Additionally, members of the "Gang of Eight" that drew up the bill have said they are targeting 70 votes, in a show of broad support before the bill is sent to the House of Representatives.

Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed back on Menendez's comments when he told the Sun's Anjeanette Damon it "should be pretty easy" to secure 60 votes for the immigration reform bill.

Meanwhile, after the Heritage Foundation released a much-discussed report on the potential costs of immigration reform, other groups have weighed in on the debate.

The left-leaning Center for American Progress did a state-by-state analysis of the estimated economic impact of passing the immigration reform legislation. In Nevada, the organization estimated there were 190,000 immigrants in the state without legal status. Over 10 years, the legalization of the population would generate $534 million in tax revenue and a $17.9 billion increase in gross state product.

Also, more than 100 economists signed on to a May 23 letter to the Senate and House leadership supporting immigration reform, arguing the net impact would be economic growth. The letter was spearheaded by the right-leaning American Action Forum, and the signatories are identified as "conservative" economists.

While Reid is a strong supporter of the legislation, Sen. Dean Heller recently penned an op-ed for the Las Vegas Review-Journal in which he called for bipartisan work to pass reform and lauded the course set in the Senate while stopping short of fully backing the bill as it stands.

"Our nation needs comprehensive immigration reform, and the immigration reform proposal championed by the 'Gang of Eight' just may be our answer. When it comes to fixing our immigration system, I believe that most Nevadans actually agree on about 80 percent of the policy. It's that other 20 percent where we disagree that tends to become the focus. I've been encouraged to see this particular piece of legislation continue to move through the regular legislative process and hope it continues," Heller wrote.

Some pro-reform advocates have hope Heller will endorse the bill well before any vote on the Senate floor, possibly swaying other Republicans on the fence. The Sun's Karoun Demirjian reported last week that Heller was not biting, for now.

The full Senate is expected to take up the immigration reform in early June after addressing the farm bill, while the House of Representatives has its own "gang" of bipartisan legislators working on a proposal. The House plan is expected to be unveiled next week.

While immigration reform is likely to at least garner a simple majority in the Senate, the GOP-led House is much harder to read. With redistricting reducing the voter diversity in Republican-held House districts, the incentive to vote in favor of reform may not be strong for Republican House members.

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