Getting to Yes

by Andrew Stiles

Chuck Schumer has said he wants to pass immigration reform with 70 votes in the Senate. That’s looking more likely now that the Gang of Eight has signed off on a GOP border-security amendment, which could give uncommitteed Republicans the political cover to vote yes. Senator Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), for example, has already said he’ll support the bill if the amendment is attached. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) called it “a dramatic improvement on border security,” and Senator Jeff Flake (R., Ariz) called it a “substantial difference” that would help win votes for the bill. “We’ve made a push for 70 votes,” Flake told reporters on a conference call. “That’s what we wanted. I think it is possible with this amendment.”

The specifics of the amendment, which was negotiated by Senators Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R., N.D.), under Schumer’s supervision, are still coming out. It would reportedly double the amount of border-patrol agents — from about 20,000 to 40,000 — at a cost of $30 billion dollars. Gang of Eight members recently attacked Senator John Cornyn’s (R., Texas) proposal to add 5,000 border-security agents for being too expensive. Congressional Budget Office report, released yesterday, scored the bill as deficit-reducing ($197 billion over ten years), thus likely providing some flexibility on the financial front. 

The amendment also calls for 700 miles of new border fencing, additional border-security technology such as drones and infared sensors, a mandatory employment-verification system, and an entry-exit tracking system at air and sea ports — a low-tech, biographic system, as opposed to the advanced, biometric system most Republicans support. The Department of Homeland Security will have to present a plan that includes a number of “minimum” requirements set by Congress. But there will be no hard “trigger,” or metric, such as a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal border crossers, which must be met before a pathway to citizenship can be granted. Many Republicans support such a requirement, and it was included in an amendment offered by Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas.). “We are assured by the border patrol that, with these [additional] resources, they’ll get to that [90 percent] number,” Flake said. “But they’ll be no trigger that is based on an outcome like that.”



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