A deal will be announced on Thursday for a border security amendment that would up the cost and requirements for enforcement of immigration law in the “gang of eight” immigration reform bill, aides said. The agreement gives a boost to an effort led by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to win over more Republicans.
The bill mandates that significant increases to border requirements be met before undocumented immigrants can move from provisional status to legal permanent residency. Given those increases, it’s likely to be expensive: aides said they expect a cost of $30 billion for 40,000 border agents, rather than the 21,000 agents in the original bill. The deal would also require 700 miles of fencing and more funding for aerial drones to watch the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gang of eight senators and the amendment’s authors hope the measure will help win over skeptical Republican senators so the bill passes with significant margins, giving it more momentum when it goes to the House.
“For people who are concerned about border security, once they see what’s in this bill, it’s almost overkill,” Corker said on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” Thursday morning, before the deal was announced.
Concerns about the cost of additional border security requirements were assuaged a bit after the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate earlier this week that the bill as written would cost about $22 billion to implement, meaning additional border agents alone would more than double the cost. But the CBO also predicted large economic gains for the bill, with a $197 billion decrease in the deficit over the next decade and a $700 billion decrease in the 10 years after.
The Senate already voted down amendments to add border security requirements to the bill from Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and is expected to defeat another from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) when it comes for a vote.
Some GOP members, including Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). have said they would be more likely to vote for immigration reform if its border security requirements were strengthened. Kirk raised eyebrows last week when he voted twice against moving forward on the bill, joining immigration hardliners.
“The decision is should the border security amendment pass, I will be able to support the final legislation because then I will be able to assure the people of Illinois that the border is well covered with 21,000 border agents added, one every thousand feet, I think we got the border covered,” Kirk told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet on Thursday.
Cornyn said on the Senate floor that he was open to the Corker-Hoeven amendment for increasing border security requirements, but first wanted to see the details.
In the House, it could be another story. Although Corker and others said they hope the strong border protections in the amendment will help with House GOP concerns, it’s possible the bill won’t come up for a vote in the lower chamber at all.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Tuesday that he would not take up the bill unless a majority of House Republicans supported it.
“[A]ny immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties’ support if we’re really serious about making that happen,” Boehner told reporters after a meeting with his conference. “And so I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans.”