WASHINGTON -- Key senators brokered a tentative deal Wednesday to strengthen the border security provisions in the
The proposal would spend substantially more on security than the $6.5 billion now in the bill -- adding even more border agents, drones and fencing along the southern border with
Achieving such a deal could be the linchpin to winning the robust Republican support in the Senate that the bill’s authors believe is crucial to build momentum in the House, where the
The senators who crafted the new proposal said they hoped to unveil it Thursday and work to round up support.
“What we’re talking about is basically a dramatic effort to secure the border that would just, in most people’s minds, be substantial,” said Sen.
Those involved in crafting the compromise indicated it would provide a more detailed border strategy than the bill does now. It includes a directive for the
The proposal would station substantially more Border Patrol officers along the southern border, in addition to the 3,500 included in the bill, and install more radar technology -- including the drone-mounted Vader system. It would also erect more double-layer fencing. Costs could double.
The extra spending would be paid for by new revenue sources already established in the bill. Negotiators saw room to maneuver this week when the independent
“More manpower, more fencing and more technology -- drones, helicopters,” said Sen.
The difficulty in reaching an accord on border security has brought the Senate to a near standstill as Republicans insisted on achieving almost total control of the U.S.-Mexico border before immigrants could transfer to permanent legal status.
That demand was a nonstarter for the four Democrats and four Republicans who crafted the overhaul. Experts have said the goal is potentially unreachable and would leave immigrants indefinitely waiting for permanent legal status, let alone citizenship.
As written, the bill requires only that a plan be in place to detain or turn back 90% of those making illegal crossings. It does not have to achieve that goal. But Democrats knew the provision would need to be strengthened to attract Republican support beyond the handful who now support the bill.
That point was underlined when the budget office said the overhaul would cut the annual flow of illegal immigration only by 25% because of "people overstaying their visas issued under the new programs for temporary workers." After that, beefing up the border gained momentum, senators said.
For two days, senators holed up trying to reach an agreement as the Senate dispensed with some of the less controversial amendments in floor votes.
“We’re close,” said Sen.
Republican senators presented the outline of the compromise to their colleagues Wednesday during a closed-door lunch.
The deal would also include amendments from other Republican senators to strengthen enforcement within the United States. One would bolster the E-Verify program, which, under the bill, requires all employers to verify the legal status of new hires; another would expand the exit visa system to record departures at 30 international airports.
"Look, we have some people in our caucus that are never going to vote for an immigration bill," said Corker. "We've got to see how many people this actually brings to the table. We'd like for it to go to the House with momentum."
Notching a significant Senate vote is seen as increasingly important as House Speaker
But budget hawks will surely balk at the extra spending on border security, even if the cost is fully offset by the new taxes and fees. Some began grumbling Wednesday that throwing more money at the border was not the smartest way to achieve control of the crossings.