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Senators Near Key Compromise on Beefed-Up Border Security

June 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
A bipartisan group of senators have worked out a potentially critical compromise for the immigration reform bill. Reform supporters said they had met demands for greatly expanded policing of the border with Mexico. Ray Suarez talks with two lawmakers shaping the legislation: Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: The prospects for passage of immigration reform, by a big margin, appeared to brighten considerably today.

Supporters talked hopefully that they’d met demands for greatly expanded policing of the border with Mexico.

Two Republicans went to the Senate floor this afternoon to announce a potentially critical compromise on a key sticking point for many in the GOP.

SEN. JOHN HOEVEN, R-N.D.: Americans want immigration reform. Of that, there is no doubt. But they want us to get it right, and that means first and foremost securing the border.

SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.: Some people have described this as a border surge, and the fact is that we are investing resources in securing our border that have never been invested before.

RAY SUAREZ: Senators John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee worked out the beefed-up security provisions. Their language would nearly double the number of Border Patrol agents to 40,000 at a cost of $30 billion dollars over 10 years. It would also build 700 miles of additional border fencing, and it would make use of surveillance drones to monitor illegal crossings.

Some 11 million people would be granted legal status for now. They’d have to wait for green cards that grant permanent residency status, until the border security steps are completed. Hoeven and Corker negotiated with New York Sen. Charles Schumer and other members of the bipartisan gang of eight, who wrote the original bill.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Speaking on behalf of the Democratic members of my bipartisan group, let’s say this: Barring something unexpected, we’re extremely enthusiastic that a bipartisan agreement is at hand. We are on the verge of a huge breakthrough on border security. With this agreement, we believe we have the makings of a strong bipartisan final vote in favor of this immigration reform bill.

RAY SUAREZ: Among Republicans, there were some signs the compromise might win that support. Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said in a statement: “Once the Senate adopts our amendment, I will be proud to vote for a bill that secures our border and respects our heritage as an immigration nation.”

Other Republicans, including Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, were unmoved by the deal.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-Ala.: I think we can get something done, but it’s a long way from that today, and I don’t think this amendment is going to touch many of the objections that I spoke about.

RAY SUAREZ: If the bill ultimately scores a big enough win in the Senate, it could put new pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to let the House vote on the same bill.

Still, today, he said, in effect, don’t count on it.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Regardless of what the Senate does, the House is going to work its will. Our members, when we get back after July the 4th, the Republican Conference is going to have a special conference where there’s going to be a broad discussion of this.

And out of that, hopefully, we will determine, you know, what the way forward is.

RAY SUAREZ: For now, at least, the House is moving toward a vote on a Republican bill that deals with enforcement only.

Meanwhile, back on the Senate floor, members continued to debate other amendments. The Senate is hoping to complete its work on the bill by July 4.

And we continue our discussions with lawmakers shaping the legislation.

I spoke with Sen. Hoeven a short time ago.

Senator, welcome to the program.

At this hour, are you feeling confident about all the pieces being in place for a deal that previously reluctant senators can sign on to?

JOHN HOEVEN: Well, we put have forward a piece of legislation that we’re adding to the bill that greatly strengthens border security.

I think it is going to really help in terms of getting a bipartisan support for the immigration reform legislation. But, you know, we’re kind of in the last minute of getting everything buttoned up, and then there’s just a lot going on. But I’m hopeful that it will be very helpful to getting the kind of immigration reform the people of this country want.

RAY SUAREZ: What are the most important new provisions? What has been added that helps bring on board some people who might not have been able to support the bill before?

JOHN HOEVEN: It really strengthens border security.

We put a $3.2 billion dollar high-tech strategic plan in place right in the legislation that must be accomplished on the southern border, everything from unmanned aircraft and helicopters and planes flying the drones, to sensors and infrared detectors and the new VADER radars, and all these high-tech — all the high-tech equipment that can make a big difference, but, in addition, a tremendous amount of manpower, 20,000 Border Patrol agents, 700 miles of fence.

We implement an E-Verify system to enforce employment law nationwide, electronic entry/exit systems at all of our international airports and seaports. This is about making sure we have a secure border, so that we don’t find ourselves in the future in a situation where we have a tremendous amount of illegal immigrants in the country once we address the reforms that are contained in this legislation.

RAY SUAREZ: At a time when much of the debate on both sides of the Capitol Hill complex is dominated by arguments over money, this sounds pretty expensive.

JOHN HOEVEN: You know, it is, but it’s fully paid for, fully paid for, and this legislation provides substantial deficit reduction as well. So this is about getting the job done with border security, about reforming our immigration system, about getting the workers we need, the H-1B, the immigration innovation high-end STEM workers, that kind of thing, to get our economy growing, fully paid for and actually provides significant deficit reduction as well.

RAY SUAREZ: Are there members of your caucus who simply aren’t going to vote for any plan brokered between the “Gang of Eight” and members like yourself, that even with these new provisions, they’re simply not going to go with you?

JOHN HOEVEN: You know, there are some members that are not going to vote for it, but we’re working to get a very substantial bipartisan majority, and I believe we can. And I think that’s going to help in terms of actually getting the bill all the way through the House and into law.

RAY SUAREZ: That was my next question. What about the House? How much of a vote do you need coming out of Senate? Does it build momentum coming out of the Senate if you can get that number well above 60?

JOHN HOEVEN: Oh, absolutely.

And I think we should be — you know, we should try to be at 70 or more, if possible.

RAY SUAREZ: And you can do this before the Fourth of July recess, sir?

JOHN HOEVEN: Yes, I believe we can.

RAY SUAREZ: Sen. John Hoeven, thanks for joining us.  

JOHN HOEVEN: Thank you. Good to be with you.

RAY SUAREZ: Now we get an opinion from a senator representing a Southern border state.

Tom Udall is a Democrat from New Mexico.

Senator, welcome.

Do these amendments from Senators Corker and Hoeven get the Senate where it needs to be? Is there the elements now in place for a vote next week?

REP. TOM UDALL, D-N.M.: Well, as you heard, one of the key parts is really border security.

It’s one of three. And this increases border security, invests more in it, in technology, and does everything you can to try and stop people from coming across. Now, one of the other keys here, obviously, is many people don’t cross through the border. They come in on a visa, and when it expires, they stay. And so that’s why the exit/entry system is important.

But the three central things that I think we have been focusing on are, number one, border security, number two, finding a pathway of earned citizenship for the 11 million people that are here. And the third is really dealing with employers, dealing with the situation where employers in the past have been hiring people they shouldn’t be hiring.

We’re going to have a system in place. They will check it out, and they will be able to call over the Internet and find out whether they can hire this individual. So all of this is very good for New Mexico. In fact, we have seen a real investment in all these areas over the last six or seven years, dramatic drop in apprehensions.

We have seen border security improved. And so I’m going to look very closely at this amendment and see what it does to further improve this situation.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, is this going to be more than some Democrats, some members of your caucus can take? They were ready to go ahead with an approval of this bill without these added measures, without the added cost, and without the two-step version, where first you do the border and then you do the legal residency.

Are you in a position where you may lose Democratic votes, while gaining Republican ones?

TOM UDALL: Well, that’s always a possibility.

And because we don’t know all the full details and exactly how it’s going to function and see the language, everybody has always said that the devil is in the details on this bill. We know what we want in an overall way in terms of border security. We know that we want an earned path to citizenship, where you do those background checks at the front end, so that the criminals have to go back to their respective countries.

And then we also know we want to make sure that we don’t create the situation over again and have employers hiring people that they shouldn’t be hiring. And so those are the key components. And it’s really the devil is in the details for many of us, I think, and we’re going to be scrutinizing every amendment that comes up or every substitute, because we had a pretty good product coming out of the Judiciary Committee.

It had 41 bipartisan amendments, and it just — it looked very good.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you worry about ending up what for — what for members of the Democratic Party might be the worst of both worlds, putting things into the bill to win over Republican votes, and then not carrying the matter at the end of the day when it’s all done?

TOM UDALL: Well, I think it’s very important that we have — you know, the way the Senate functions now is, you can’t get anything out without 60 votes. And so we have to have bipartisanship because, right now, we only have 54 Democrats in the Senate, so we have to reach out and work with them.

And that’s what these eight senators who have been working on this for a long time did. They put a bill together. They got it through Judiciary. It’s on the floor, and we have to find ways to make sure that we’re going to get a substantial margin. I don’t know that it makes that much of a difference between 60 and 70.

I think the important thing is that we have made a statement that is bipartisan, and then it’s going to be the responsibility of the House to either take up our bill or do something themselves and then get it into conference. And I think the president will play a key role in this in terms of what he’s willing to sign and giving us the information we need to find out if this is a good piece of legislation.

RAY SUAREZ: Sen. Tom Udall, thanks for joining us, Senator.

TOM UDALL: Thank you. Real pleasure.

RAY SUAREZ: We have much more online. You can follow along with the debate and view my discussion series examining the legislation on our Immigration page.