Supporters of the Senate's border security compromise are calling it the "border surge" amendment.
Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., on Thursday announced that they had reached a deal with the Gang of Eight to strengthen the border security provisions in their comprehensive immigration reform package. And, it appears that, whatever the Corker-Hoeven amendment might mean for border security, the bipartisan proposal was poised to generate a mini-surge of Republican support for the underlying bill.
Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., signed on to the Corker-Hoeven amendment soon after the deal was consummated; and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, indicated that he was pleased with the policy direction of the proposal. Perhaps most important, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., gave Corker-Hoeven his seal of approval, essentially saying the amendment provides the changes he needed to preserve his support for a comprehensive reform package he helped draft.
Corker predicted that the amendment he authored with Hoeven could attract as many as 15 Republicans, including the four in the Gang of Eight, to support the Senate immigration reform bill.
"Based on the conversations we've had with many of our colleagues, that if this amendment can pass I think it will add tremendous momentum to the bill," the senator told reporters.
"We're also adding a few other elements that bring on other folks that had concern about the legislation," Corker added.
Corker and Hoeven discussed the amendment, which they said is "about securing the border first," during a Capitol Hill news conference.
Under the amendment, illegal immigrants already in the U.S. would still be eligible for immediate legalization. But Hoeven said they would not be eligible for a green card or permanent residency — the first step toward citizenship — unless the Department of Homeland Security implements a congressionally mandated border security strategy, including a "southern border strategic plan" that has to be deployed and operational.
The amendment would require Homeland Security to hire an additional 20,000 border agents, virtually doubling the number now patrolling the border. The executive branch must also build 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, implement an e-verify system to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants and add electronic entry-exist systems in all airports and seaports.
"All of those conditions have to be met before you go from [initial legal status] status to a green card" Hoeven said.
But a persistent band of Gang of Eight critics wasn't moved.
Five Republican senators — Ted Cruz, of Texas; Mike Lee, of Utah; Charles Grassley, of Iowa; Jeff Sessions, of Alabama; and David Vitter, of Louisiana — said the Senate bill was still unacceptable because even with the Corker-Hoeven amendment, it still allows for undocumented immigrants to be legalized before any of the border security measures are in place.
Under this scenario, the critics contend, there is no guarantee that the security measures will ever be implemented, in effect repeating what happened in 1986, the last time lawmakers passed immigration reforms. That year, Congress and President Ronald Reagan approved legislation that legalized immigrants already living illegally in the U.S., but the security measures it required were later ignored. Grassley served in Congress at that time and supported the legislation.
"For me, it's turning out to be 1986 all over again," Grassley said. "I was part of those promises — and we screwed up."
david drucker Senior Congressional Correspondent