Improving immigration reform prospects, Senate passes "border surge" amendment

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A bipartisan majority in the Senate on Monday evening adopted a robust and pricey border security amendment, paving the way for a full vote later this week on comprehensive immigration reform legislation that President Obama has long hoped would be a hallmark of his second term.

Voted through 67 to 27, the amendment was introduced last week by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., with hopes that it would draw support from Republicans who've stipulated they won't support immigration reform that doesn't prioritize increased border control. The proposal would double the number of Border Patrol agents from 20,000 to 40,000, devote billions of dollars to enhanced surveillance equipment and up the amount of border fencing required by the bill from 350 to 700 miles.

Notably, it would also require all enhanced border security elements to be in place and operational before the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States could obtain legal status and begin trekking the path to citizenship.

Appearing Sunday on "Face the Nation," Corker said the amendment - termed a "border surge" by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. - adds a $46 billion price tag to the bill hashed out by the Senate's "gang of eight," but assured that it will ultimately pay for itself and then some: "Over a ten-year period, you're gonna have a return of $197 billion without raising anybody's taxes that will reduce our deficit," he said, referring to a report out last week from the Congressional Budget Office.

Vocal opponents of the amendment, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., took the floor Monday ahead of the vote to criticize its 11th-hour introduction Friday, and argued it was too hefty to thoroughly read over the weekend.

With the amendment in place, though, "gang of eight" member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., predicted Sunday his group's bill will make it past the 70-vote threshold when it comes up, likely later this week. Foes of the Senate bill who claim its pathway to citizenship offers "amnesty" to people who have broken the law expressed hope that the more conservative House will able to kill the bill when it lands in the lower chamber.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, on Sunday pointed out that if House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insists on having a majority of his caucus in support of the bill before he introduces it on the floor - an informal custom known as the "Hastert rule" - it could well be defeated.

But Schumer argued on CNN: "I believe we'll be in the neighborhood of 70 votes by the time the vote occurs at the end of the week, and I do believe that having a significant number of Republicans will change the dynamic in the House. There will be huge pressure on Speaker Boehner not to block immigration reform because that would consign the Republican Party to minority status."

President Obama, who has signaled he will sign the legislation as it currently stands, told reporters Monday at the White House: "All of us, I think, recognize that now is the time to get comprehensive immigration reform done."

The president rallied the need for a bill that "involves having very strong border security; that makes sure that we're holding employers accountable to follow the rules; one that provides earned citizenship for those 11 million, so that they have to pay back taxes, pay a fine, learn English, follow the rules, get to the back of the line - but ultimately can be part of the above-board economy, as opposed to the low-board economy; and a system that fixes and cleans up our legal immigration system so that we can continue to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

"...The good news is, is that we've got a strong bipartisan bill that meets many of those principles," he went on. "As I've said before, it's not a bill that represents everything that I would like to see; it represents a compromise... But it does adhere to the core principles that we need for comprehensive immigration reform, and now is the time to do it."

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