Sens. Hoeven, Corker Push New Border-Security Amendment

Rebecca Kaplan

A border-security amendment being authored by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for the immigration-reform bill would leave in place the hard trigger for the pathway to citizenship envisioned by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, but it would seek to establish more objective metrics to define what it means for the border to be under operational control, Hoeven told National Journal Daily Monday evening.

Hoeven and Corker had been working on an amendment to the immigration bill with Republican members of the Gang of Eight after an amendment released last week by Cornyn—which called for total "situational awareness" of the border and a 90 percent apprehension rate of border-crossers before registered provisional immigrants could begin applying for green cards—was widely panned by Democrats as a poison pill.

So far, Hoeven and Corker seem to be following a similar path to Cornyn, but their plan does not replace his. A spokesperson for the Texas senator said Cornyn still planned to seek a vote on his own amendment.

"We're working to strengthen the border-security piece in the legislation," Hoeven said, listing several metrics that defined a secure border: implementation of E-Verify, a biometric entry/exit system, a specific border-security and technology plan developed in consultation with Customs and Border Protection, and a 90 percent apprehension rate.

"We'll put that right in the bill, saying that you've got to put all that in place at a minimum, and then for all of the people that try to come across that these various technologies detect, you have to turn back or capture 90 percent. And only at that point can you go to make the transition to green card from RPI," he said.

The plan would not call for a vote by Congress to certify that all the metrics had been met; certification would come from the Department of Defense in consultation with the comptroller general, the Government Accountability Office, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The new plan, Hoeven said, was in response to Democratic concerns that Cornyn's amendment "couldn't be quantified sufficiently" in order to make it a trigger for beginning the citizenship process. But for advocates of the Gang of Eight bill, it's still a nonstarter.

"A hard trigger with a 90 percent rate is almost certain to result in denying a path to citizenship for 11 million people. It's a new metric, no one knows if it's even possible to meet it, and including it as a condition for citizenship will likely consign 11 million people to a permanent provisional status," said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America's Voice, a group backing the legislation in its current form. "We recognize the desire for a border-security amendment to bring out Republican votes, but a hard trigger that threatens the path to citizenship isn't' going to fly."

Still, Corker told reporters Monday evening that he thought the work he and his colleagues were doing was beneficial.

"I would hope that whatever we're doing would be something that would help a bill pass. That's the purpose in working on this," he said.