Border security amendment coming today?

Last week, I interviewed Sen. Marco Rubio about the lack of confidence in the border-security provisions of the immigration-reform bill currently in the Senate.  He told me then that an amendment would come this week that would address those concerns by taking the decision and the metrics out of the hands of DHS, instead having Congress explicitly define the measures.  Byron York reports that the long-awaited amendment will finally drop today:

Senators seeking a solution to a deadlock over border security have reached a tentative agreement they believe could win the votes of a significant number of Republican lawmakers for the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Republican Sens. John Hoeven and Bob Corker have been working on an amendment to the Gang bill that would satisfy Republicans who say the legislation as currently written does not have strong triggers to make the awarding of green cards, or permanent legal status, conditional on the completion of strict border control measures. A Senate aide familiar with the talks says the agreement would require that such measures be in place before immigrants could win permanent legal status.

In other words, the timing of the normalization doesn’t change.  The initial legal status still takes place first — the temporary legal status that allows illegal immigrants to register without deportation and find work.  Rubio explained that the fines get levied at the first stage, which will fund the border-security provisions.

What exactly will those border-security provisions be in the new amendment? It’s at least a lot more robust — and explicit — than earlier provisions.  It also includes a mandate to build more of the fence along the US-Mexico border:

The key feature of the deal is a massive increase in the number of Border Patrol agents. The Hoeven and Corker amendment would call for the number of agents to be essentially doubled, to about 40,000 from its current force of 20,000. “It’s hard to contend that you can’t control the border with about 40,000 Border Patrol agents,” says the Senate aide.

The deal would also call for an increase in the miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. It appears the amendment will provide for a total that is near the 700 miles of fencing called for in the Secure Fence Act, which Congress passed in 2006 but watered down a year later.

The plan would also include what the aide calls “a whole gaggle” of border security infrastructure — infrared sensors, drones, and other high-tech devices, which the aide says would be “enough to give situational awareness along the whole border.”

The deal also calls for the full implementation of the E-Verify employment security system, which is already a part of the Gang bill as it is today.

Assuming this delivers what it promises, it’s a big improvement over what has preceded it in this bill.  That’s especially true of the border fence, which had been proposed in other amendments that got shot down by the Gang of Eight over the last couple of weeks because of the way the triggers got timed with normalization.  That addresses one key concern of the reform skeptics, who rightly point out that Congress hasn’t even bothered to enforce its own border-security law from 2006.

If Congress doesn’t have the will to make sure its own writ runs on the border fence, critics argue, then why should anyone trust that they will enforce triggers created now — especially with a DHS that seems very disinclined to enforce immigration law as it is?  Including the fence completion as a trigger rather than an auxiliary issue is a bottom-line issue on credibility, and it appears that Republicans have finally made that clear in the Senate talks.

That also increases the bill’s chances for success in the House — as long as these new additions are “hard triggers,” metrics that must be met in order to pass through to the second stage of normalization.  York’s source says that the new amendment will make these triggers mandatory, but we will have to wait to see the product.  The aide also told York that this deal has coalesced and fallen apart at least once over the last week, and as with anything else, it’s best to wait for the legislative language to reach any firm conclusions.