Immigration bill compromise

WASHINGTON – A proposed compromise agreement to the U.S. Senate immigration overhaul plan was unveiled by eight Republican members Thursday.

A “border surge” of more fencing and border agents was proposed as a means to attract more GOP support.

But Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and a wing of Senate Republicans called the proposal a “lot of hoopla about border security” to try to give GOP members cover to support the immigration legislation. Vitter is helping lead the groups of GOP critics who contend that the nation must first focus separately on fixing border security problems before Congress should even consider “amnesty.”

The overall, bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration plan involves cracking down on Mexican border security, offering a path to citizenship after more than 10 years and expanding guest worker programs in areas ranging from the sciences to agriculture. The federal government estimates 11 million people live in the country without legal permission.

Vitter and some Republicans argue against a “comprehensive” approach and that the border must first be secured. He argued during back-to-back news conferences Thursday that the bill under consideration in the U.S. Senate still fails to guarantee results on security.

“Washington is great at spending money,” Vitter said. “What Washington is not great at is achieving results.”

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the compromise proposal they drafted would require completing 700 miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and doubling the current number of border agents from 20,000 to 40,000 patrol agents. The plan also requires adding an entry-exit tracking system.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and a member of the “Gang of Eight,” said he expects the compromise amendment to pass “with significant bipartisan support.” The goal is to pass the overall bill before the Fourth of July recess.

Rubio said he understands that opponents are “frustrated” because they have seen past promises to secure the border not come to fruition. But this bill is far stronger on border security than anything strongly considered in the past, Rubio said.

“This is a ‘border surge,’ ” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., another “Gang of Eight” member. “I can look anybody in the eye and tell them that if you put 20,000 border patrol agents on the border in addition to the 20,000 we’ve got … that will work.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who has been supportive of the overall bill, spent time Wednesday evening and Thursday complaining strongly against the “bullies” and the “obnoxious” obstructionism in the U.S. Senate that is preventing noncontroversial amendments from being debated and passed. She would not name names.

She complained about “rewarding bad behavior” when some senators who oppose the legislation are holding up proceedings to get votes on controversial amendments.

“The better behaved you are, the more team player you are, you don’t get anything,” Landrieu said. “The only way to get something is to become obnoxious.”

With the help of Senate leadership, a list of 27 supposedly “uncontested” Democratic and GOP amendments was proposed, such as some proposals to put the interests of children first in immigration issues, to ease adoption process of foreign children, and to help small businesses adopt E-verify employee legality verification systems with mobile phone applications. But those amendments were resisted when Republicans said they needed more time to review them.

Once the border security plans are finalized, the legislation would allow many of those living in the U.S. illegally to obtain “registered provisional immigrant status,” if they have lived in the country continuously since before 2012. They must pass criminal background checks to receive the status and pay a $500 fine. The status allows them to live and work legally in the country but without receiving federal benefits.

After 10 years in provisional status, immigrants can seek a green card and eventually apply for citizenship if they are up-to-date on their income taxes and pay a $1,000 fine. They also must meet work requirements and learn English. Those brought to the country as children would be able to get green cards in five years and citizenship immediately thereafter.