$600M border bill unlikely to spur immigration reform

Liz Goodwin

President Obama signed a $600 million border-security bill into law today, which will send 1,000 new patrol agents to the border and pay for unmanned drones and other surveillance technology.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bill shows both Democrats and Republicans are serious about securing the border, and thus clears the way for comprehensive immigration reform that would include a way for illegal immigrants already in the United States to get legal status. "Now our attention must turn to comprehensive reform, which is the only way to fully address the problem of illegal immigration," he said, according to CNN.

Republicans have refused to discuss Schumer's draft proposal for reform so far this year, admitting the immigration system is "broken" but insisting Congress should not touch the issue until the border is secure. Popular support for Arizona's immigration law suggests the American public is also focused on stricter enforcement of immigration laws, instead of reform.

So is this bill — along with the 1,200 National Guardsmen Obama sent to the border at the beginning of the month — enough to convince holdouts that the border is secure enough to talk reform?Not likely. Sen. John McCain, for one, has asked for $2 billion and 6,000 additional Border Patrol agents, a far cry from what was passed. Though he added himself as a co-sponsor to the bill, he said the measure is "just a start." Sen. Chuck Grassley also called for more security measures, the Washington Independent points out.

And advocates for immigration reform tell Politico that Democrats have now lost a bargaining chip, since the reform bill calls for enhanced enforcement, such as a national I.D. card to verify employment eligibility, and more border-security resources. Sen. Jon Kyl claimed in June that President Obama was holding border security "hostage" so Republicans would have to sign on to reform in order to get increased enforcement. If such a nefarious plot ever existed (the White House denied it), this bill means it certainly doesn't now.

There's some debate, however, over whether increased border security is effective when not paired with other systemic changes, like a temporary worker program and harsher penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Princeton researcher Douglas Massey writes that the Border Patrol's record presence of 20,000 agents has actually increased the illegal population in the United States. Farm workers who used to cross back over into Mexico after their seasonal jobs were over now stay in the United States since crossing has become more dangerous. Sen. Schumer's immigration proposal would create a temporary guest worker program for agriculture workers, so they could legally come into the States and then go back to Mexico after their jobs were finished.

Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations Edward Alden points out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that while increased border security has led to fewer people trying to enter the country illegally, it also means that those who do cross over increasingly rely on human smugglers who are often connected to drug gangs.

(Photo: AP. President Obama signs the Southwest Border Security Bill as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano looks on.)