WASHINGTON – Landmark immigration legislation is doomed to fail in Congress unless border-security provisions are greatly strengthened, Republican senators bluntly warned Tuesday.
If in fact the American people can’t trust that the border is controlled, you’re never going to be able to pass this bill, declared Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
His admonishment, joined by those of other GOP lawmakers, came as both Democratic and Republican senators filed a flurry of amendments ahead of the first votes Thursday in a separate committee on the bill to deal with an estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally and the millions more who might be expected to try to enter in the future.
Border security was the major sticking point Tuesday.
If we’re going to get immigration reform through, if you’re going to get it through the House, we’re going to have to do a whole lot more on what is the definition of a controlled border than what is in this bill, said Coburn.
Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., voiced similar concerns at a hearing to examine border security provisions of the bill. One of the legislation’s authors, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has already acknowledged that the bill will face a tough road to passage if those elements are not made stronger, and in a statement Tuesday he welcomed possible changes.
In order for this bill to become law, it will have to be improved to bolster border security and enforcement even further and to limit the federal government’s discretionary power in applying the law, Rubio said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., an author of the legislation, defended the border security provisions and said that for some Republicans, border security is just their excuse to oppose immigration overhaul legislation.
Durbin said that border security is stronger than ever, but nonetheless we went the extra step in this bill, and they’re saying it’s still not enough. You kind of reach a point where you have to question their commitment to immigration reform.
The bill would allocate $5.5 billion for border measures aimed at achieving 100 percent surveillance and blocking 90 percent of illegal border crossers and would-be crossers in high-entrance areas.
The Homeland Security Department would have six months to create a new border-security plan to achieve the 90 percent effectiveness rate. Also within six months, the department would have to create a plan to identify where new fencing is needed. Once that happened, people who were in the U.S. illegally could begin to apply for a provisional legal status.