Senate Border Plan Boosts U.S. Immigration Law Prospects

The Senate advanced the costliest plan ever to bolster security at the U.S.-Mexico border, drawing enough Republican support to indicate that a broad revision of immigration law will pass by week’s end.

The 67-27 vote yesterday will allow the measure to move forward. It would double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and require an additional 350 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, at a price tag its backers say will reach $38 billion.

“Some people have described this as a border surge,” said Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who proposed the measure. “The fact is that we are investing resources in securing our border that have never been invested before.”

The plan would be attached to the immigration legislation, with both measures headed for a final vote in the Democratic-led Senate as soon as June 27. The debate then will shift to the Republican-controlled House, where opposition to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is stronger.

The border plan drew 15 Republican supporters in yesterday’s vote, including Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. All 27 “no” votes were from Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas. Both are up for re-election next year and face the risk of party primary challenges.

The Senate will vote tomorrow on adopting the border plan and on limiting debate on the underlying bill, clearing other hurdles to final passage in the chamber.

Legislative History

U.S. immigration law hasn’t been significantly altered since 1986. A 2007 immigration rewrite died in the Senate and wasn’t considered in the House. The prospects for passage of a bipartisan bill are greater this time because some Republicans see the issue as a way to boost the party’s appeal with Hispanic voters.

Republicans are trying to reconnect with Hispanic voters after President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the votes cast by the fast-growing voter group in the 2012 election.

The immigration bill is on track to pass the Senate with a lopsided majority, with the border-security package attracting additional Republican votes, said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat.

“With this agreement, we believe we have the makings of a strong bipartisan final vote in favor of this immigration reform bill,” Schumer said during floor debate.

The legislation includes a citizenship option for undocumented immigrants and alters the nation’s system of work visas for employees of technology, agriculture and other companies.

House Prospects

Still, prospects in the House are uncertain. The House Judiciary Committee, led by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, is considering separate measures involving aspects of immigration policy. Goodlatte has said he doesn’t favor the Senate’s comprehensive approach.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said last week he won’t bring an immigration proposal to a vote unless a majority of the chamber’s 234 Republicans support the bill.

Appearing today on “CBS This Morning,” Representative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who was his party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, said the House would begin moving on immigration next month, calling it a “ very important” issue for Republicans to address. Border security will be “the keystone” of any House legislation, he said, adding, “We won’t do the Senate bill in the House.”

McConnell Optimistic

McConnell said today he’s optimistic that the House will act and that both chambers can take a vote on a compromise measure before year’s end.

“I hope the House will be able to pass a companion measure and we’ll have a conference and deal with an issue of this magnitude in a way we should,” he told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it’s impossible for him, or anyone, predict how the House will act after “crazies” in Republican ranks pressured Boehner to seek a more-partisan bill.

The Senate’s border-security amendment, offered by Corker and John Hoeven of North Dakota, will cost about $38 billion over the next 10 years, the two said in a fact sheet released yesterday. That would be in addition to $8 billion in security measures already in the immigration bill.

The fact sheet says U.S. taxpayers “will more than be made whole” because the measure’s costs will be balanced by higher visa fees and added tax revenue that includes fines for undocumented workers.

Contract Costs

The Corker-Hoeven proposal requires that 10 years must pass before undocumented workers in the U.S. can receive permanent legal residency -- and only then if the border-security changes are in place. The border measure includes added pedestrian fencing at the border, 20,000 more border agents and resources for 12 more unmanned aerial drones.

The Senate bill will create as many as 11 million new legal U.S. residents by 2023.

They will pay $16 billion in fees to cover the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s processing costs. The agency typically spends a quarter of its budget on contracts, meaning the bill may produce $4 billion in contracts. Computer Sciences Corp., SAIC Inc. and General Dynamics Corp. were the agency’s top 2012 contractors, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis by Brian Friel.

Electronic Verification

The bill would expand the electronic verification system used by contractors to check the legal status of applicants before hiring. The Department of Homeland Security has paid Computer Sciences $111 million since 2007 to run the system. IBM Corp., SAIC and other IT contractors could compete with the company for $1.4 billion in future work, according to Friel’s analysis.

The historic investment would dwarf a package approved in 2010 that is the largest to date. That $600 million measure was geared to the U.S.-Mexico border and provided 1,500 new Border Patrol, Customs and other agents, as well as communications equipment and unmanned aircraft.

The Senate vote yesterday marked the biggest hurdle for the border package, requiring 60 votes to advance.

Before the Senate takes final action on the immigration bill, other amendments could be considered including proposals to limit benefits for immigrants who gain legal status and to provide equal protection for same-sex couples.

Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the bill’s Republican co-sponsors, has proposed an amendment to bar undocumented immigrants from gaining permanent legal residency until they can read, write and speak English.

The business community is signaling its support for the bill -- with a push yesterday from the White House.

Obama met with business leaders, including Steve Case, chairman and founder of venture capital firm Revolution LLC; Sunil Puri, founder of First Rockford Group Inc., a real estate company; and Hamdi Ulukaya, chief executive of yogurt maker Chobani Inc., to encourage Senate passage of the legislation.