A border surge amendment to the Senate’s Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill will require five tough conditions be met before any green cards are given to anyone -- with the exception of DREAMers and agriculture workers.
Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., are still drafting the language of the bill to be released later Thursday. However, just moments ago on the Senate floor, Hoeven outlined criteria that must be achieved to in order to increase Republican support to the main bill. Those criteria focus on manpower, border fencing and technology. They are:
- $3.2 billion border security plan along the southern border, including observation towers and airplanes. There will also be mobile tools such as unmanned aerial systems with long-range thermal-imaging cameras. The Secretary of Homeland Security must certify to Congress that this is in place and operational.
- Homeland Security must also deploy an additional 20,000 agents on the border. This is a doubling of the manpower that’s already present on the ground in the South.
- Homeland Security must build 700 miles of fencing. That's an additional 350 miles to what's already on the ground.
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- The secretary must verify that the mandatory E-Verify system is in place for all employers to ensure that new hires comply with immigration laws.
- Electronic entry-exit systems must be in place at all international airport and seaports.
“We must do more to secure the border in this legislation, and that is exactly what we are offering here today,” Hoeven told colleagues while explaining his amendment.
There are almost 300 amendments pending on the current immigration bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he wants legislation passed before the July 4 recess. However, things have slowed down because of the impasse on border security.
Earlier Thursday, the Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to implement mandatory triggers before the 11 million undocumented immigrants are given legal status. Lawmakers voted 54-43 to table that amendment, which Cornyn said would have improved chances of passage in the House where, without it, the Gang of Eight’s bill is dead on arrival.
The Hoeven-Corker amendment is being backed by Gang of Eight Republicans like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said illegal immigrants are getting a tough but fair path to citizenship.
“To meet that is enough. That is enough,” Graham said of the border surge plan. He called on his colleagues to break up the gridlock and do something about the undocumented living in the country, because “they are people.”
Likewise, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has urged his colleagues to indeed punish immigrants for entering illegally but should not use that issue to manufacture a reason for not passing immigration reform.
“Isn’t it enough now,” McCain said, then encouraged senators to vote for the border surge bill.
Corker said securing the border is what the American people have been asking for.
“[Our amendment] has the ability to bring a bipartisan effort behind immigration reform,” he said. “I think the House can improve this. I think a conference can improve this. And I hope we have the opportunity down the road [to see that].”
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the lead Democrat on the main bill, said he is now confident more than ever the Senate will pass a comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 and that it will reach President Barack Obama’s desk for signature.
If a reform bill passes both chambers, it will be a major policy initiative in Obama’s second term. The measure will add to his legacy as an economic gain as well; the Congressional Budget Office has said enacting immigration reform will lead to a net savings of $175 billion in the first decade and an additional $700 billion in the second decade.
Still, making the bill law probably won’t come easy. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said there will be no immigration reform without a majority Republican support.
“I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans,” Boehner said, calling the current border security measure in the Senate bill “almost laughable.”
“If they’re serious about getting an immigration bill finished,” Boehner said, “I think the president and Senate Democrats ought to reach out to their Republican colleagues to build broad bipartisan support for the bill.”
Senators are pushing for 70 votes to send a very strong bipartisan message to the House.