WASHINGTON — Some Republican senators said Thursday that they could support a new compromise border security plan but civil rights groups were outraged at a proposal they said would “militarize” the border with Mexico as a trade-off for GOP votes on the immigration overhaul.
As many as 20,000 new Border Patrol officials, 700 miles of fencing and more surveillance drones would protect the border under the tentative $30-billion-plus deal reached with Republicans.
Budget hawks were stunned at the hefty price tag, even though the extra costs would be paid for with new taxes and fees on immigrants and employers seeking guest-worker visas.
The compromise is the Senate's best hope for advancing the immigration overhaul with the Republican support needed to give the bill momentum as it heads to the House, where the GOP majority has yet to embrace the cornerstone of the bill — a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants.
Some Republican senators, who had wanted to delay the citizenship path until the border was fully secure, said they could now come on board.
“This bipartisan compromise will restore the people’s trust in our ability to control the border and bring 525,000 people in Illinois out of the shadows,” said Sen. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) “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 immigrant nation.”
Civil rights groups questioned the deal at a time when deportations of immigrants are at record highs and the future flow of illegal immigration is expected to come largely from those who stay after their visas have expired, not border crossings.
“Our communities would be subjected to a dramatic rollback of rights in exchange for a long and arduous road to citizenship,” said Christian Ramirez of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. “To those looking to throw more money at a border that is already militarized, we say, "¡Ya basta! (Enough already)."
One of the main opponents of increased immigration, Roy Beck of NumbersUSA, called the compromise “a desperate political move by pro-amnesty forces to provide cover to pass a bill that would otherwise not pass.”
Both sides were reviewing the proposal Thursday, and a vote is expected next week.
The White House was being briefed by top Democrats, as the party sought to prevent dissent from its liberal senators.
“I’m willing to look at something that can be worked out,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Engineered by two lower-profile Republican senators in the immigration debate, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), along with the bipartisan group of eight senators who authored the immigration overhaul, the compromise will send a new flow of money to the border at a time when defense budgets have been cut.
The proposal provides a more detailed border strategy than the bill currently does. The bill includes a directive for the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a plan to ensure that 90% of the immigrants trying to cross over from Mexico are stopped at the border.
The compromise would spend substantially more on security than the $6.5 billion now in the bill — hiring more Border Patrol officers, in addition to the 3,500 customs officers included in the bill, and installing more radar technology — including the drone-mounted Vader system. It would also erect more double-layer fencing.
Staff writers Katherine Skiba and Brian Bennett contributed to this story.