Two Republican lawmakers have hashed out a deal aimed at assuaging conservative concerns about immigration reform, proposing to double the size of the Border Patrol and add 350 miles of extra fencing to the southern border over 10 years.
The deal, struck by Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, replaces a more stringent border deal supported by John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas. Cornyn's plan, which failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate this week, would have made the legalization of millions of unauthorized immigrants contingent on the Border Patrol certifying that it is able to stop 90 percent of all illegal crossings. Immigrant groups blasted Cornyn's plan, saying it endangered the path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, a key part of the bill.
The Corker-Hoeven compromise says immigrants cannot receive permanent legal status, or green cards, until 350 extra miles of fencing has been added to the southern border and the Border Patrol there has been doubled from 18,500 to nearly 40,000 agents. The E-Verify system will also have to be fully implemented by all employers. The senators have not yet released cost estimates for the change.
The Corker-Hoeven amendment, which has not yet been introduced, could be a breakthrough for the sweeping immigration reform bill, as key Republican senators such as Illinois' Mark Kirk, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte and Nevada's Dean Heller have signed on to the amendment, according to NBC. If the reform bill passes the Senate with at least 15 Republicans voting for it, it will send a stronger signal to the Republican-led House that immigration reform is bipartisan.
Liberal groups were not thrilled with the compromise, calling the extra security excessive and expensive. But there was no indication they would actively fight the measure.
“The exchange to guarantee more Republican support comes at a high cost with millions of dollars more in investment to border security, as if it didn’t already get enough funding," Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement. "Combined with the benchmarks already in place in the bill, the excessive border provisions make a mark in our history and our pockets. This is disappointing and we will undoubtedly work to ensure that the overall legislation respects the rights of border communities and migrants."
Fernando Garcia, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights in Texas, said the plan to double the Border Patrol in 10 years is "an outrageous plan that was struck without consulting with people who live and work on the border."
"The most obscene element of the plan is that it would create a militarized border between allied nations where there is no military conflict," Garcia said in a statement.
Joanne Lin, the legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill might triple the total spending on border enforcement during a time when illegal crossings over the southern border have reached near historic lows. "This massive deployment of force would be simply devastating for border communities," Lin said.