On Thursday, senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) announced that they had reached a deal on an amendment to the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill, which they hope will allow reticent Republicans to vote for the bipartisan reform. The amendment, which the senators have dubbed the “border surge,” would nearly double the size of the current border patrol force to 40,000, mandate the completion of 700 new miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, and implement a mandatory e-verify system and an electronic entry-exit identification system at all international airports and seaports in the U.S. Only once all these conditions are met could immigrants begin attaining permanent residency.
Senator Hoeven pitched his amendment on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, calling the proposal “a very straightforward way to secure our border, and do so before providing a pathway to legal permanent residency for those who came here illegally.”
“Our legislation will provide significantly more resources to secure the border. More manpower, more fencing, more technology,” Hoeven argued.
The amendment was crafted largely as an alternative to one from Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), which would have mandated that a far stricter set of border security “triggers” be met before any undocumented immigrants could receive a green card. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had blasted the amendment as a “poison pill” specifically designed to kill the bill.
On Thursday afternoon, the Senate voted 54-43 to table Cornyn’s amendment, clearing a path for the bill to move forward with Corker and Hoeven’s. Reform advocates hope that, with Cornyn’s amendment dead, Republicans will be willing to sign off on Corker and Hoeven’s plan instead.
“I think this amendment has the ability, if passed, to bring a bipartisan effort behind information reform that would then send the bill to the House,” Corker said on the Senate floor Thursday. Senate reform advocates hope that around 15 Republicans will vote for the “Gang of Eight” bill, providing political cover for Republicans to support it in the House of Representatives.
The border surge plan would come with a hefty price tag; early estimates suggest that the new border security measures could add about $30 billion to the total cost of the bill. On the Senate floor Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued that “it’s money well spent, because it makes the border more secure, which helps us with our sovereignty.”
Not all Republicans are pleased with the “border surge” plan. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), one of the most vocal opponents of immigration reform, lamented that the Corker-Hoeven plan “will just throw money at the border” instead of solving the root problem. Similarly, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the amendment a “fig leaf,” while Senator Cornyn warned against the amendment’s “false promises.”
Other Republicans, such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, believe that the border surge plan pushes the bill too far to the right. Corker himself acknowledged that criticism during a Thursday morning appearance on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, saying, “For people who are concerned about security, once they see what is in this bill, it’s almost overkill.”
“Overkill” may be an appropriate term. Despite repeated claims from politicians on both sides of the aisle that “securing the border” must be priority number one for reform, the U.S.-Mexico border is actually more secure than it has been in decades. In fact, as the Center for American Progress points out, border security has actually surpassed the benchmarks laid out in the failed immigration bill of 2007.
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