CAPITOL HILL— A proposal to dramatically boost U.S. border security has cleared a key procedural vote in the Senate, providing momentum for the chamber’s final passage of a bill to overhaul U.S. immigration laws, possibly later this week.
Prospects for immigration reform brightened in the Senate after a 67-27 vote ending debate on an amendment mandating 20,000 additional border agents, more than 1,000 kilometers of new fencing between the United States and Mexico, and a boost in border monitoring technology.
The amendment was crafted to win the support of Republican senators seeking iron-clad guarantees that America’s porous borders will be secured before 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country gain legal status. Republican Bob Corker helped draft the proposal.
“If you really believe in making sure that we address our border security, this amendment is something you should support. This amendment gives results," said Corker.
Corker said that, under the amendment, the so-called border “surge” will have to be in place before undocumented workers gain permanent residency in the United States. Few Democratic senators were wildly enthusiastic about the added border security measures, but most were willing to back them if they helped win bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform, a top item on President Barack Obama’s agenda.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said the amendment removes border security doubts as a reason to vote against immigration reform.
“No one can dispute that the border becomes virtually airtight. And that means those who cross the border [illegally] will be few and far between," said Schumer.
Even so, some Republicans were not swayed. Senator Chuck Grassley said that, even with the amendment, immigration reform amounts to de facto amnesty for the undocumented with promises of border security that are likely to be broken.
“We are going to secure the border after legalization. Because a plan put before Congress is not securing the border. But legalization is going to take place before any plan is put into effect," said Grassley.
Monday’s vote is seen as a hopeful sign for Senate passage of the larger immigration overhaul bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid says he wants a final vote by the end of the week.
Even if the bill clears the Senate, its passage is far from assured in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where many legislators steadfastly oppose any plan that provides a path to citizenship for the undocumented.