A deal to double Border Patrol agents and fencing at the U.S.-Mexico border
improved prospects of the Senate passing an immigration overhaul law, senators
"We are on the verge of a huge breakthrough on border security," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that wrote the Senate's original comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
"With this agreement we believe we have the makings of a strong, bipartisan, final vote in favor of this immigration reform bill," Schumer said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., another Gang member, said he was "very hopeful and optimistic that this will be seen as a major game-changing effort to secure the border and will be enormously helpful to the bill," drafted by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D.
"Literally, it will almost militarize the border as a surge," Graham said.
Backers said they hoped the amended bill, which could be voted on next week, would pass with nearly 70 votes, giving it strong bipartisan momentum as it heads to the Republican-controlled House.
"I don't know anybody that has proposed a tougher measure, when you look at it all combined," Corker said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at his weekly news conference Thursday an immigration overhaul bill would pass his chamber only if it ensured "our borders are secure" and gave "confidence that those who came here illegally are not given special treatment, confidence that hardworking taxpayers are being respected and confidence that a majority of both parties have had their say and support the final product."
The Corker-Hoeven "border surge" amendment would double the U.S. Border Patrol force to 40,000 agents and complete 700 miles of border fencing, up from 350 miles lawmakers originally considered.
The additional border guards and fencing would cost roughly $25 billion, senators said.
The amendment also calls for a $3.2 billion high-tech border surveillance plan.
The plan includes drone aircraft, infrared ground sensors and long-range thermal imaging cameras. It would also require both an electronic employment verification program for all employers and a visa entry and exit system at all airports and seaports to limit immigrants who overstay their visas.
The amendment provides "more manpower, more fencing, more technology," Hoeven said.
The nearly $30 billion price tag will be paid for by reductions in the federal budget deficit pegged to immigration reform, lawmakers said.
A Congressional Budget Office report this week said the Gang of Eight bill would cut the deficit $197 billion in the first 10 years after the law goes into effect.
"We didn't know we had the dollars" before the CBO report, Schumer said. "We have them now. And we still keep to our goal of not costing the Treasury a nickel. The CBO report was a true game-changer."
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