Chiesa will support immigration reform

WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Sen. Jeff Chiesa will vote for the immigration reform plan expected to pass the Senate Thursday, calling his support "the right thing for me to do, on balance."

The Republican first announced his decision the old fashioned way: on Twitter. His office confirmed that the new account, @ChiesaNews, is authentic.

In a later interview with the Inquirer, Chiesa said he would have liked to have seen even stronger border security measures included in the bill, and favored some Republican amendments that were defeated. But he said advancing the final package is best for New Jersey and the country.

"Taking this step, getting the bill over to the House, where they’ll hopefully make it stronger, is the right thing to do," Chiesa said. "There's 450,000 or so people in New Jersey that will be impacted by this, I have a short time here and I think it’s most productive to use my time in a way that advances this issue in a way that I think is productive and helpful to the people that live in my state."

The 450,000 figure refers to the estimated number of undocumented immigrants in New Jersey. The bill would create a path to legalized status and, eventually, citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants across the country.

In the second-to-last vote on the bill, Chiesa joined 14 other Republicans Thursday morning to advance the measure, 68-32. Most Republicans opposed the plan. They accounted for all 32 "no" votes.

The immigration vote could be the most significant one of Cheisa's four-month tenure. It may also affect how national conservatives, who are deeply divided on the issue, view Gov. Christie, who hand-picked Chiesa to fill the seat of the late-Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Final Senate approval is planned Thursday afternoon.

Chiesa had until now expressed concern about border security but declined to take a firm stand on the bill. He voted for several measures to strengthen security, including a so-called "border surge" that will nearly double patrols and add hundreds of miles of new fencing.

"This bill makes it better than it is now – better border security, better E-verify, better entry and exit," Chiesa said, referring to several security improvements included in the plan. "On balance, I think this is the right thing for me to do for the state that I represent and for the country as a whole."

Chiesa said he had heard from many Senate colleagues and the White House in the weeks leading to the vote, but that they were respectful and gave him space to make his own decision.

Chiesa provides one more Republican vote to help immigration reform supporters build the bipartisan majority they hope will pressure the House to take up the bill -- though Republican leaders there sound increasingly unlikely to bring the Senate plan to a vote. They instead sound inclined to write their own legislation, likely to include more conservative provisions.

Earlier Thursday he released this statement:

“As a former Federal prosecutor and Attorney General for the State of New Jersey, I have looked carefully at this debate through the lens of public safety and law enforcement. This bill strengthens border security, E-verify and better identifies visa overstays through an improved entry/exit system. I will vote for this immigration bill because I believe it is the right thing to do.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, (R., Pa.) has said he is "unlikely" to support the final bill. Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) is one of its prime sponsors and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) supports the measure.

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