Rubio Eyes Adding Specifics of Enforcement Plan to Immigration Bill

by Jonathan Strong

Senator Marco Rubio is looking at ways to beef up the Gang of Eight immigration bill, ahead of a bruising floor fight looming the week of June 10.

One idea that is under top consideration is to formulate the substance of a border-enforcement plan rather than, as the legislation currently has it, relying on the Department of Homeland Security to come up with one. The amendment would try to address skepticism over whether DHS would develop an adequate border-enforcement plan, considering that Secretary Janet Napolitano has expressed her belief the southern border is already secure.

Rubio hinted at the idea in his special hour-long town-hall appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on May 24. “What people are saying is, we don’t trust the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a good border plan, we don’t trust the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a good fencing plan, and so maybe the alternative is to have the Congress do that. The point is that needs to happen. That is the lynchpin of whether this will work or not,” Rubio said.

It’s also one of the ideas Senator Rand Paul has been discussing as ways to improve the bill. “We should write the bill, we should write the plan, we should do these things to secure the border whether it will be fence, entry, exit, we should write it, not delegate it,” Paul said recently, ”because what is going to happen in five years if they don’t do their job — it may not even be them, it might be somebody else who doesn’t do their job in five years — and the border is not secure, we will be blamed for the next 10 million people who come here illegally.” Paul has also floated an amendment to require Congress to periodically vote on whether the border is secure.

Heightening the stakes is the fact that Paul, like Rubio, is a potential presidential candidate in 2016. But unlike Rubio, Paul also shares a home state with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has shown great deference to Paul in the past year or so, including hiring a top Paul World operative, Jesse Benton, as his 2014 campaign manager.

It’s not clear whether Democratic members of the Gang of Eight would support the idea of adding a specific enforcement plan to the bill, but Rubio has said publicly that the fate of the bill is in peril if its border-enforcement provisions aren’t strengthened. Outside of the four GOP members of the Gang, no Republican has announced his support for the bill.

“It’s clear the bill needs tougher border-security measures if it’s going to pass the Senate,” a Rubio aide says. “We have talked with several Senate offices about ways to strengthen the border-security provisions in the legislation so that people can be confident that we will not have future waves of illegal immigration in the U.S. It’s premature to discuss possible amendments, but it’s an issue we’re closely looking at,” the source added.  

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