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Immigration reform: new security plan could sway dozen Republicans

Many Republicans have balked at the immigration reform bill, saying it didn't do enough to improve border security. A new compromise amendment in the Senate addresses those concerns and could pave the way for overwhelming approval next week.

By Staff writer / June 20, 2013

Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee (l.) and John Hoeven of North Dakota talk to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Thursday about their amendment to immigration legislation.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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Washington

Immigration reform got a substantial boost in the Senate Thursday, as Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota helped craft a compromise proposal on border security that could pave the way for an overwhelming approval of the bill when it comes to a final vote next week.

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The amendment, together with a handful of others still under negotiation but whose prospects appear favorable, could push the vote total toward 70 senators. That is something of a magic number for proponents of immigration reform, who think a huge, bipartisan vote in the Senate could compel the House to act. Many Republicans in the House have so far shown little enthusiasm for comprehensive immigration reform. 

Yet border security has been among the primary stumbling blocks for Republicans, both in the House and Senate, and Senator Corker is confident that his amendment should allay any concerns.

“If anybody on either side of the aisle had any concerns whatsoever about the border being secure – certainly securing the border should not be an issue if this amendment passes,” he said Thursday.

The "Gang of Eight" senators that crafted the immigration bill also also hailed the importance of the compromise amendment. 

“If this amendment doesn’t convince people we are securing the border, nothing will,” says Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York, one of the bill’s authors.

The amendment, which will likely come up for a vote early next week, would double the number of border security agents along the US-Mexico divide to 40,000 and require the completion of 700 miles of border fencing, up from 350 in the initial border plan. The measure explicitly spells out the types of technology (including unmanned aerial vehicles and special radar) and infrastructure to be deployed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will have to provide a border security strategy six months after the bill is enacted.

The Corker-Hoeven compromise addressed concerns on both sides of the aisle.

Republicans pointed out that the DHS has failed to enforce immigration laws in the past. They also were concerned that, under the original bill, DHS was tasked with devising its own border security plan. What if that plan wasn't up to snuff? Republicans said. 

Democrats, on the other hand, feared that an alternative – putting specific border-security goals in place and then making the pathway to citizenship contingent on their fulfillment – would allow a future Congress to short-circuit the route to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Corker-Hoeven’s answer was to establish five "triggers" that will increase border security significantly, but which can be definitively implemented in a relatively short period. These are:

  • The addition of 20,000 border patrol agents.
  • The construction of 700 miles of fencing.
  • The implementation of more and advanced border-security technology
  • The nationwide implementation of the E-Verify employment verification system.
  • The implementation of electronic scanning systems for foreigners entering and exiting the US at all air and seaports.
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