In what New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said was a significant step in the making of a strong bipartisan agreement on immigration reform, Republican Senators John Hoeven and Bob Corker announced a border security compromise on Thursday.
The “border surge” plan, developed with the Gang of Eight senators, would double the size of the border patrol to 20,000 new agents, require 700 miles of border fencing and require a high tech comprehensive border security plan including surveillance drones, seismic imaging, and long range thermal energy cameras.
“We have, if this legislation passes in the form that it is, with the amendment as we’ve agreed, we have secured the border,” Corker said on the Senate floor at midafternoon.
Also under the emerging compromise, the border security provisions would have to be implemented before immigrants already in the country could be eligible for Lawful Permanent Residence or Green Card status. The plan is based on U.S. Border Patrol’s assessment of what the agency needs to secure the border.
“The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Defense must certify that border security strategy is deployed, in place, and operating. That’s the first requirement before adjustment to RPI status,” Corker said.
“We are investing resources and securing the border in ways that have never been introduced before,” he added.
Although the language of the amendment is currently being vetted, Senators already began to sign on to the legislation, including Republicans Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Dean Heller of Nevada. Senators Marco Rubio and John McCain took to the floor to make passionate pleas to their colleagues to pass the comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
“The facts are more than 11 million people live in the shadows, and they live here in de facto amnesty and by God they are being exploited every single day,” said Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. “Shouldn’t it be-in a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, to bring these people out of the shadows?” he said, pounding on the podium. “Isn’t it in our nation to come together and pass this legislation and not manufacture reasons for not doing that?” asked McCain.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a key Republican on the Gang of Eight who has been pushing for more border security additions to the legislation, said that the current immigration system is a “disaster of epic proportions” and that the new border security is not an “anti-anyone” effort.
“We have a sovereign right to protect our border,” he said. “This amendment takes [border security] back. We will decide what the plan is.”
The new provisions come with a hefty price tag. The cost of doubling border patrol agents alone will add $30 billion dollars in cost. The recent Congressional Budget Office report on the economic benefits of immigration reform boosted Republican support however.
But not everyone is in favor of the new amendment. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called the amendment a “fig leaf” and Sen. Jeff Sessions said it would simply “throw money at the border.”