Critics said the bill gave short shrift to border enforcement, with some lawmakers insisting that the border be sealed before the other reform measures take effect. That issue was addressed as the result of an amendment from Corker and Hoeven.
Under Corker-Hoeven, five triggers – or goals – must be met before undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. can start on a pathway toward citizenship. The provision hikes border patrol ranks by 20,000 – almost doubling the contingent at a cost of $30 billion — and adds 350 miles of border fencing. It spends $4.5 billion on technical innovations intended to provide security personnel with full situational awareness along the southern border. And it implements an entry-exit visa program to keep tabs on visitors who overextend their stay as well as the so-called e-verify program to make employers aware of a potential worker’s immigration status.
But for many the amendment didn’t go far enough. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, acknowledged that “these are big problems that need solving,” but that the effort falls short.
“If you can’t be reasonably certain that the border is secure as a condition of legalization, there’s just no way to be sure that millions more won’t follow the illegal immigrants who are already here,” McConnell said. “As others have rightly pointed out, you also can’t be sure that future congresses won’t just reverse whatever assurances we make today about border security in the future.”
The absence of a “firm, results-based border security trigger” means “there’s just no way I can look my constituents in the eye and tell them that today’s assurances won’t become tomorrow’s disappointments,” McConnell said. “Since the bill before us doesn’t include such a trigger, I can’t support it.”
But President Obama, who supported the bill and praised the Senate’s action, said the measure will “establish the most aggressive border security plan in our history.”
“It would offer a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million individuals who are in this country illegally – a pathway that includes passing a background check, learning English, paying taxes and a penalty, and then going to the back of the line behind everyone who’s playing by the rules and trying to come here legally,” Obama said. “It would modernize the legal immigration system so that it once again reflects our values as a nation and addresses the urgent needs of our time. And it would provide a big boost to our recovery, by shrinking our deficits and growing our economy.”
“Today, the Senate did its job,” he added. “It’s now up to the House to do the same.”
But the House doesn’t appear eager to follow suit. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the lower chamber will develop its own version of immigration reform – one that will likely focus on enforcement.
“Apparently, some haven’t gotten the message,” Boehner said. “The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. We’re going to do our own bill, through regular order, and it’ll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people. For any legislation – including a conference report – to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members.”
Boehner indicated that he thought the bill was rushed through the Senate and that any immigration reform bill “has to be grounded in real border security.”
“That’s what the American people believe, and it’s a principle that our majority believes in as well,” he said.