President Obama signed a $600 million border protection bill Friday. Does that mean comprehensive immigration legislation has a better chance of passing?
That’s the position the White House is pushing. The border legislation, which would pay for 1,000 new Border Patrol agents, and add other law enforcement personnel to investigate immigration violations, was enacted with substantial bipartisan support. Administration officials hope this will translate into hands-across-the-aisle cooperation on the larger issue of immigration reform.
"The resources made available through this legislation will build upon our successful efforts to protect communities along the Southwest border and across the country ... these steps will make an important difference as my administration continues to work with Congress toward bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders,” said Obama in a statement issued Friday.
The administration’s theory runs like this: by showing Obama is willing to take tougher measures on border law enforcement, the president should be able to sway some Republicans on aspects of immigration reform.
But that does not appear likely in a political environment in which conservative primary voters and "tea party" activists are pushing Republican candidates farther to the right prior to the mid-term elections.
In general, Republicans remain wary of any immigration effort that includes such provisions as a roadmap to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the country. The GOP calls that “amnesty," and they don’t like it.
“If the president takes amnesty off the table and makes a real commitment to border and interior security, he will find strong bipartisan support,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said Friday.
About $400 million of the money authorized by the border law will flow to the Department of Homeland Security. That money will pay for new Border Patrol agents and for two new unmanned aerial vehicle systems. About $200 million is intended for the Department of Justice to fund a surge of personnel into the Southwest border region.
According to the administration, statistics show a significant drop in the number of people trying to enter the US illegally and a significant rise in seizures of illegal drugs and smuggled currency. Since 2004, the Border Patrol has doubled in size, to some 20,000 agents.
Overall, border efforts “are making a difference, and they are the reason why everything that is supposed to be going up is going up and everything this is supposed to be going down is going down,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano at a White House briefing.