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Senators’ Accord Avoids Plan That Would Scuttle Immigration Bill

June 21, 2013
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The compromise reached yesterday "solved the riddle of how we deal with border security."

Kathleen Hunter and Laura Litvan

The bipartisan coalition backing a Senate proposal to revise U.S. immigration law avoided a change that imperiled the bill’s passage as they negotiated an alternative border-security plan.

The agreement to enhance the security elements helped siphon off support for a more stringent border plan offered by Texas Republican John Cornyn. The bill’s co-sponsors warned that Cornyn’s proposal would have created insurmountable hurdles for undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens and would have cost them votes for the measure.

The compromise reached yesterday "solved the riddle of how we deal with border security," said New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democratic co-sponsor of the bill. "I think it’s a breakthrough, and I’m optimistic it can help us get a large number of votes on both sides of the aisle."

The Senate is finishing up a second week of debate on immigration legislation that seeks to balance Democrats’ goal of a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. with Republicans’ insistence on stricter border security. Senate Democratic leaders want to pass a bill before July 4. The last major revision of U.S. immigration law occurred in 1986.

The agreement on border security, described on the Senate floor yesterday by Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, would double the U.S. Border Patrol’s size by adding 20,000 agents and would require 700 miles of fencing at the U.S.-Mexico border. It would provide additional unmanned aerial drones to help police the border.

Legal Status

Also, it would require the Department of Homeland Security to certify that the added border-security resources were in place before undocumented immigrants could receive permanent legal status, said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill.

All employers would have to be using an e-verify system to check workers’ legal status, and all airports and seaports would have to use a visa entry and exit system.

"We believe all of this can be done in 10 years," Graham told reporters. In that case, it wouldn’t delay the Senate bill’s plan to allow undocumented immigrants to begin receiving permanent legal status in 10 years.

The compromise was praised by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill who had said he wouldn’t support the version that emerged last month from the Senate Judiciary Committee without more stringent border control.

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