June 20, 2013

U.S. senators announce border security compromise

The emerging compromise adds powerful momentum to an Obama-backed immigration reform bill.

The Associated Press

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In this June 6, 2013 file photo, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., speaks during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing in Washington. Kirk said Thursday, June 20, 2013, he's been working with colleagues to craft immigration reform that's gaining momentum in the Senate. He says the measure will secure the U.S. border to the south and create a "tough but fair" path to citizenship. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Speaking for CAMBIO, an organization that favors immigrant rights, Christian Ramirez said the deal should include lapel cameras to deter abuse by border agents, as well as the placement of 1,000 distress beacons in the desert.

The ACLU called the proposed agreement a "massive deployment of force" that would be "simply devastating for border communities."

Corker and Hoeven both said they expected the legislation to be formally unveiled in the Senate late Thursday.

The agreement was a turn in the Senate spotlight for the two men, who have spent days in secretive talks with fellow Republicans, and then with Schumer and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

"We must secure the border first" before anyone in the country illegally can gain citizenship, Hoeven said on the Senate floor. "That's what Americans demand and that's what we must do." He said the 10-year cost included $25 billion for the additional Border Patrol agents, $3 billion for fencing and another $3.2 billion for other measures. Other officials said the overall cost of the security upgrade could reach $40 billion over a decade.

Corker told reporters the plan amounted to 'border security on steroids" and said it would impart "tremendous momentum" to the bill on the Senate floor. By day's end, Republican Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Dean Heller of Nevada said they, too, were prepared to vote for the bill if the changes were incorporated.

That brought to 10 the number of Republicans who have indicated they will vote for the bill, far more than enough to assure it will have the 60 required to overcome any attempted filibuster by last-ditch opponents. Democrats control 54 seats, and party aides have said they do not expect any defections from their side of the political aisle.

Apart from the border security measures, the legislation as drafted already included implementation of a biometric system to track the comings and goings of foreigners at air and sea ports as well as land crossings, and a requirement for businesses to verify the legal status of job seekers.

At the same time the border security talks appeared all but settled, officials disclosed changes on other thorny issues.

Under one of them, sought by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, immigrants would not be able to claim credit for Social Security taxes they paid while working without lawful status. Credits are used to determine the amount in benefits a worker receives from the program after retirement.

Also under discussion was a second proposal by Hatch to prohibit the federal government or the states from making immigrants eligible for welfare until they had held legal status for five years.

Officials also said the White House had taken a role in drafting a change to clarify when immigrants would become eligible for federal subsidies under the health care law that is now taking full effect. Details were not immediately available.

Democrats and Republicans alike said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was pressing for a toughening of the E-Verify program, and that a small group of Southern Republicans wanted changes made to a new program that would permit farm workers from other countries to work in the United States temporarily. The outcomes of those talks — and the votes of several Republicans as well —were unclear.

In addition to border security issues, the legislation would increase the number of visas going to high-skilled workers whose labor is sought by U.S. technology firms, create a new program for lower-skilled immigrants and allow farm laborers to come to the country temporarily to perform seasonal jobs.

Separately, younger immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children would be eligible for legal status more quickly than others.

For foreigners looking to move to the United States legally, a decades-old system that emphasizes family ties would be replaced by one that gives more weight to education, work skills, English proficiency and relative youth.

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