After years of polarizing debate and disagreement, the U.S. Senate passed the first “comprehensive” immigration reform bill in decades. The bill received bipartisan support, with 14 Republicans joining Senate Democrats and Independents in a 68-32 vote. But the bill’s provision for ramping up border security – and the reason it got conservative support – angered many residents along the border who are tired of militarization in their communities.
“This amendment makes border communities a sacrificial lamb, in exchange for the road to citizenship,” Christian Ramirez, director of San Diego’s Southern Border Communities Coalition told The New York Times.
The immigration reform bill’s fate is unclear in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. It certainly will not be as easy as it was in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Conservative representatives have already said they won’t consider voting on the Senate’s bill, and will instead either continue to draft their own version or adopt a piecemeal approach rather than a comprehensive bill.
The bill the Senate passed Thursday includes temporary legal status for some of the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, who would have to wait 10 years before applying for permanent residency and another three before being eligible for citizenship. They’d also have to pay back taxes and maintain a clean record before they could apply for a green card. Senate Republicans were tepid toward the bill, but Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) added an amendment that would double Border Patrol agents (already the law enforcement agency with the most officers in the country) and add 700 miles of fencing along the border with a $30 billion price tag.
The bill also mandates a system whereby employers must verify they are only hiring employees who can legally work within the U.S., and an entry-exit tracking program to find out if foreigners are overstaying their visas. Many conservative lawmakers, including, unsurprisingly, Texas’ Republican Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, voted against the bill and are calling it “amnesty.” One of their main complaints is that it doesn’t make citizenship contingent on tougher measures to secure the border.
Cornyn had proposed a different amendment, which senators from both parties called a “poison pill,” that would have called for a 100 percent securing of the U.S.-Mexico border and a 90 percent apprehension rate along the border before even considering a pathway to citizenship. Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, told Fox News that the bill “has immediate legalization … and the border security is sometime in the future, and just like in 1986, it’s designed never to come into being,” a statement Politifact rated “Mostly False.”
House Republicans echo those concerns. To pass in the House, any bill would first have to go through the House Judiciary Committee, headed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) who favors a piecemeal approach.
His committee recently passed several measures addressing immigration, including the infamous SAFE Act that originally proposed criminalizing illegal immigration:
“Last week, the committee passed bills that would revamp the visa system for agricultural workers and encourage state and local law enforcement agencies to help enforce federal immigration laws,” reports USA Today. “This week, it worked on bills that would provide more work visas to foreigners trained in high-tech fields and nationalize a program requiring business owners to check the immigration status of new hires.
“No bills have been filed to address the central questions of border security and a pathway to citizenship. And none of the bills heard in the Judiciary Committee has received any Democratic support because of how they approach each issue.”
Representatives will meet to discuss immigration after the July 4th recess, and will likely produce a bill with much stricter border security measures. Border residents can only wait and dread what a conservative-backed bill might do to their communities.