By Paul C. Barton, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Republican Sen. Bob Corker helped fashion a proposal on border-security Thursday that lawmakers hoped would win strong bipartisan support for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that's expected to receive a Senate vote next week.
Corker and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., announced their proposal on the Senate floor, offering it as amendment to a comprehensive immigration reform bill that has been under consideration in the chamber since last week.
It's designed to win support from other GOP senators who are reluctant to support immigration changes without a vastly beefed-up commitment to secure U.S. borders first, especially the one with Mexico.
Highlights of the Corker-Hoeven plan include:
-- Doubling the number of border patrol agents from 21,000 to 40,000.
-- Doubling the length of secure fencing from 350 miles to 700 miles.
-- @Implementing an electronic system to monitor entries and exits at all international air and sea ports within the United States where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are deployed.
-- Requiring the Department of Homeland Security, after consultation with other cabinet departments, including Defense and Justice, to submit a "Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy" to Congress that includes minimum requirements for each sector along the border as identified by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Further, the plan has to be made operational.
The extra border agents alone would add an estimated $30 billion in costs to the bill.
Hoeven said the amendment would be paid for with the savings that the overall bill will generate for the federal government.
According to a cost estimate released this week by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill would reduce the federal deficit by $197 billion over the first 10 years and another $700 billion over the following decade.
"We have addressed that (border security) in spades," said Corker, adding the amendment would help attain an "immigration system that meets the need of a growing economy" and put "this issue (immigration reform) behind us."
The state's other senator, Republican Lamar Alexander, wanted to see the actual wording of the amendment but said, "Sen. Corker is demonstrating real leadership on my No. 1 priority for the immigration bill, which is strengthening provisions to secure our border."
But some Republicans, including Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and John Cornyn of Texas, remained skeptical.
Cornyn wanted language requiring 90 percent effectiveness in turning back illegal crossings, but the metric was seen as a hard one to define and troubled many Democrats. Cornyn's security amendment was defeated earlier Thursday.
Sessions characterized most of the immigration proposals to come before the chamber so far as "broken promises."
He added, "We have got to have a system we can count on."
At least one tea party group called the Corker-Hoeven proposals "dubious."
"While we support any effort to strengthen our borders and protect Americans from criminal illegal immigrant activity, the Senate must actually write an amendment, read it, give the American people time to read and understand it, and explain why it's necessary before rushing it through," said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots.
But Republican members of the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group that negotiated the underlying immigration reform proposal, praised Corker and Hoeven.
"This is a very tough bill," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
And Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina added, "If you want the border secured, my God, your ship has come in."
About the overall bill, Graham told Corker and Hoeven: "I thought it was a good bill. You have made it better."
A Democratic member of the Gang of Eight, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, also praised Corker and Hoeven.
"Today, I think, is a breakthrough day," Schumer said. "This agreement has the power to change minds in the Senate."
Contact Paul C. Barton at email@example.com