WASHINGTON—Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a conservative Republican, announced her support Sunday for a bipartisan immigration overhaul plan, lending momentum to the comprehensive measure being debated in the Senate.
“Our immigration system is completely broken,” the New Hampshire lawmaker said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “This is a thoughtful, bipartisan solution to a tough problem.”
Ayotte, who was elected in 2010, is the first Republican to endorse the measure apart from the four in the Senate’s so-called Gang of Eight: Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Ayotte, a former prosecutor and New Hampshire attorney general, said the U.S. has 11 million people living “illegally in the shadows” while the legal immigration system is not “meeting the needs to grow our economy.”
She wants more high-tech workers admitted to ensure the U.S. has the “best and brightest here … to grow our economy.”
She praised the bill’s pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are here without legal status as “tough but fair,” saying they would “go to the back of the line, pay taxes, pass a criminal background check, learn English.”
The bill faces a key test vote Tuesday. Several amendments are on tap before a vote on a final bill, which could come at month’s end.
With 60 votes needed for passage to avert a filibuster, Ayotte’s support puts backers closer to the threshold.
Still, some Republicans continue to push for enhanced border security. Among them is Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who cautioned on “Fox News Sunday” that the Senate’s bipartisan plan “has zero chances of passing in the House.”
Paul said he dislikes the plan’s cap on agricultural workers. He also wants people who are in the U.S. on work visas to stand in line for U.S. citizenship in their country of origin, and he would not create a new path to citizenship.
“I’m really trying to make immigration work,” he said. But other senators are “going to have to come to me and they’re going to have to work with me to make the bill stronger if they want me to vote for it.”