A potential major breakthrough has emerged in the push to overhaul U.S. immigration laws. A bipartisan proposal has been drafted in the Senate to dramatically increase border security - a central demand of Republican lawmakers.
Many Republican senators have said they will not vote for immigration reform unless it includes strong and verifiable steps to secure America’s porous borders and stem the flow of illegal crossers. Among them is Senator John Hoeven.
“The first order of business for immigration reform is to secure the border," said Hoeven.
Disagreements over precisely what constitutes adequate border security threatened to derail the bill, which would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
But Thursday saw a breakthrough. Hoeven and fellow Republican Senator Bob Corker announced a compromise amendment negotiated with the bipartisan group that wrote the original immigration reform bill. The amendment mandates 20,000 more U.S. border agents, the construction of more than 1,000 kilometers of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, and an upgrade of border monitoring technology. Providing legal status to the undocumented would proceed only after those conditions are met.
“If this amendment passes, and I hope that it will, I do not know how anybody could argue that the reason they are not supporting this legislation is because we have not addressed securing the border," said Corker.
And yet a few Republican senators remain unconvinced, including Ted Cruz.
“What we know if this bill becomes law is the legalization, the amnesty will happen. What we also know from past experience is the border security will not," said Cruz.
Even so, the emergence of a possible bipartisan way forward on the thorniest issue surrounding immigration reform was jubilantly hailed by the so-called "Gang of Eight” senators who crafted the bill, including Democrat Charles Schumer.
“I am now confident, more confident than ever before, that the Senate will pass a strong bipartisan immigration reform bill, and that it will ultimately reach the desk of the president [Barack Obama]," said Schumer.
The border security amendment could be voted on next week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wants the chamber to pass a final version of the bill in the next two weeks. If passed, it would go to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where border security demands will be even louder than they are in the Senate.