Analysis: Why Democrats Are Afraid of Border Security

Ross D. Franklin/AP file photo

For the Senate to pass a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, Republicans are going to have to start trusting Democrats or Democrats are going to have to start trusting Republicans.

Good luck with that.

Senate Republicans don't believe President Obama will enforce the bill's border-security provisions--and they don't want to let millions of illegal immigrants begin working their way toward citizenship until they see the president is serious about locking down the borders. That's why they want those immigrants' eligibility for citizenship to be contingent, or “triggered,” on the U.S. Border Patrol meeting benchmarks.

But Democrats don't think Republicans will play fair when it comes to such a trigger. They fear Republicans will hold out for a trigger and then vote against the bill anyway. Or set benchmarks for a trigger that can't be reached. Or establish a trigger but then deny the Border Patrol the funding it needs to meet the benchmarks.

“The lack of trust is real,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican in the middle of the trigger back-and-forth. He is a member of the Senate “gang” who sympathizes with Democrats’ desires to legalize the undocumented population but also with Republicans’ concerns that border security will never be taken seriously.

And everyone, Graham said, is worrying about their leverage.

Enter Sen. John Cornyn--the Texas Republican proposing an amendment that would require border apprehensions to be at 90 percent and surveillance/border awareness to be at 100 percent before immigrants on provisional visas can become eligible for green cards, the ticket to citizenship.

Cornyn is an important figure in the immigration debate. He is the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, also from a border state, who could bring many skeptical conservatives along with him in support of the sweeping legislation. But his demands are high, and many Democrats worry if they kowtow to him, he will still oppose the legislation in the end. (Many immigration-reform advocates remember that they were burned in this way in 2007, when Cornyn voted against a similarly broad immigration bill even after its sponsors went to great lengths to accommodate him.)

Graham, something of a Democrat-whisperer for conservatives, may understand better than anyone the strength of the other party’s paranoia. “Here’s the problem for our Democratic colleagues,” he said Tuesday. “If you say 90 percent operational control of the border, it wouldn’t be hard to envision a Republican-controlled wing of the Congress where they undercut the ability to get to 90 percent through lack of funding.” 

On all but a few key points, Cornyn’s amendment is in line with the border provisions in the underlying bill. The base bill includes the same border-apprehension and surveillance benchmarks. Cornyn’s amendment adds to that by putting citizenship eligibility on the line. The base bill includes an entry-exit system to keep track of all foreigners who enter and leave the country. Cornyn’s amendment adds to that by requiring fingerprints at the most used airports and seaports.

Democrats, knowing many Republicans whose support they will need on final passage approve of the border-trigger concept, say they are willing to reshape Cornyn’s proposal such that it will answer their concerns. “We’re trying. We haven’t given up on it because we’d like to have John’s support,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the top-ranked Senate Democrat in the “Gang of Eight” that drafted the immigration bill.

It’s a long shot, though, because Durbin was clear on this point: “90 percent trigger is totally unacceptable.”

Cornyn sees his advantage in raw politics. "I think if they had 60 votes to pass the bill out of the Senate, they probably wouldn't be talking to me. But they are,” he said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.