WASHINGTON (AP) Republican senators criticized border security provisions in an ambitious bipartisan immigration bill Tuesday, arguing that a divided Congress won’t pass it unless security is beefed up.
Several Republicans said the landmark bill relies too much on setting goals and requiring studies about border security, and too little on actual accomplishments.
After overwhelmingly losing the fast-growing Latino vote in the November elections, Republicans have found themselves in a bind on immigration. The party establishment and several prominent Republicans have called for finding a long-term solution to an issue that has vexed American politics for years, while some conservatives have called for a slower approach.
The immigration overhaul faces its first votes Thursday before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. Amendments are expected to be offered during the Judiciary session to boost the border provisions of the bill, which was introduced last month by four Democratic and four Republican senators.
One of the legislation’s authors, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican and potential presidential candidate in 2016, has already acknowledged that the bill will face a tough road to passage if the border security elements are not improved. Rubio has also discussed strengthening the “triggers” that require certain steps to be taken before a path to citizenship can begin.
Sen. Rand Paul, another potential presidential contender who’s voiced support for comprehensive immigration overhaul, raised questions about the bill Tuesday at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing. Paul, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, insisted he aimed to improve the legislation so it can pass not just the Democratic-controlled Senate but also the Republican-run House of Representatives, where its prospects are uncertain.
Paul denied that he’s out to oppose the bill or slow it down.
“I want to be constructive in making the bill strong enough that conservatives … will vote for it,” said Paul.
“If it’s not any stronger than this I don’t see it getting through the House,” he said.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security testified Tuesday that the U.S.-Mexico border is more secure than ever but they said the provisions in the bill would help them make it even stronger. They praised the pending legislation for directing more resources to the agency for surveillance equipment and for authorizing 3,500 new Border Patrol officers.
The bill allocates $5.5 billion for border measures aimed at achieving 100 percent surveillance of the entire border and blocking 90 percent of 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 happens, people living here illegally could begin to apply for a provisional legal status.
If the 90 percent rate isn’t achieved within five years, a commission made of border state officials would make recommendations on how to do it.
After 10 years, people with provisional legal status could apply for permanent residency if the new security and fencing plans are operating, a new mandatory employment verification system is in place, and a new electronic exit system is tracking who leaves the country.
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn warned that those measures aren’t enough.
“If in fact the American people can’t trust that the border is controlled you’re not going to be able to pass this bill,” said. “You’re going to have to do a lot more on border control.”
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