The Conservative Case for Immigration Reform
The bipartisan bill exemplifies “enforcement first.”


Jeff Flake

After winning election to the U.S. Senate last year, I expected to be teaming up often with my fellow conservative Marco Rubio (R., Fla.). What I never expected was that Senator Rubio and I would be working on immigration-reform legislation with liberals like Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Dick Durbin (D., Ill.).

While conservatives are justified in their skepticism of any legislation that Senators Schumer and Durbin sign off on, I hope we don’t let their association with the bill that is now before the Senate overshadow the conservative elements that Republicans have included.

The first section of the bill addresses border security. It requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a “Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy” and appropriates $3 billion to implement the plan with resources such as military-developed surveillance systems, additional Border Patrol and customs agents, and unmanned and fixed-wing aircraft. DHS is also required to develop the “Southern Border Fencing Strategy,” with $1.5 billion to ensure that all parts of the border that need a fence have a fence (some parts of the border are so mountainous that a fence would be impractical and redundant).

Because DHS hasn’t always addressed the situation at the border realistically, the bill requires that if they do not achieve a 90 percent effectiveness rate within five years (meaning that 9 of every 10 illegal border crossers is apprehended), another $2 billion will be spent to implement recommendations from a commission of border stakeholders, who, for the first time, will have meaningful authority to increase border security. This funding can be directed toward more manpower, technology, and infrastructure strategies.

Additionally, the bill takes strategies and resources that have been effective in certain parts of the border and expands them to the entire border. Among these are 3,500 new customs agents, authorization to deploy the National Guard at the border, funding for more border-crossing prosecutions, increased funding for Operation Stonegarden (a program of DHS grants to local law-enforcement agencies to improve border security), more Border Patrol stations and forward operating bases, access to all federal lands, funding for improved radio communications in isolated parts of the border, reauthorized funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (to reimburse state and local law-enforcement agencies for jailing illegal immigrants), and deployment of Department of Defense border radar equipment.

Another conservative concern with potential immigration reform has been the issue of amnesty. This bill ensures that no illegal immigrant will be given amnesty or rewarded for illegal behavior. In fact, no illegal immigrant will be “given” anything.