Immigration reform takes step forward

Efforts at immigration reform in the U.S. Senate seemed to take a giant step forward on Thursday, as Senators in both parties signed off on a deal that would strengthen border security provisions in the bill, with a number of Republicans quickly indicating they could support a bill that included those changes.

“If you want the border secured like I do, your ship has come in,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the members of the Gang of 8, which has tried to shepherd a bill through the Senate in recent weeks. 

“Some people have described this as a border surge,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who helped take the lead on negotiations in recent days.

“What my colleagues and I have drafted over the past few days helps solve the problem and secure the border in a robust way,” Corker added. “The goal was to shift the momentum dramatically, and that’s what this amendment does.”

The fine print of the amendment was not introduced late on Thursday night as the Senate went out of session; the goal was to officially introduce it on Friday.

Here is the summary as provided by Sen. Corker and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), who also helped negotiate the deal:

+ The Department of Homeland Security, after consultation with the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, the Inspector General of the Department, and the Comptroller General of the United States (GAO), has submitted a Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy to Congress that includes minimum requirements for each sector along the border as identified by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the plan has been deployed and is operational.

+ The Border Patrol has deployed, maintained, and stationed 20,000 border patrol agents on the southern border in addition to the 18,500 agents already stationed there. This means an agent every 1,000 feet along the southern border.

+ An additional 350 miles of fencing has been completed (in addition to the 350 miles of fencing already on the ground).

+ The mandatory employment verification system has been fully implemented for all employers.

+ The mandated electronic entry/exit system has been fully implemented at all international air and sea ports of entry within the United States where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are currently deployed.

As for the future of those in the United States illegally, the plan would given those people immediate legal status – but – they would not be able to get a Green Card or begin a path to citizenship until all of those border security provisions were fully implemented.

Even though that might delay citizenship for many, Democrats quickly embraced the plan, with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) labeling it a “breakthrough.”

While some GOP Senators reserved judgment on the deal – waiting to actually see what was in the plan – the feeling in the halls of the Senate side of the Capitol was that this might just break the logjam on immigration reform and get a bill through the Senate next week.

“What this amendment reflects is what we know will work,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who had split with the Gang of 8 earlier on Thursday and supported a border security plan from fellow Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

“We know that adding border agents, doubling the size of the Border Patrol, that will work,” Rubio said on the Senate floor.

The White House was silent on the developments, but it almost seemed like the silence was a good sign for the agreement.

Backers were still hoping for final action next week on an immigration reform bill.