How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'Border surge' plan makes green cards contingent on heavier security

A U.S. Border Patrol Agent in September 2011, along the Mexico-Arizona border.

Joshua Lott/Reuters /Landov

An immigration reform compromise announced Thursday in the Senate proposes doubling the number of agents on the U.S.-Mexico border, and making the path to a green card for unauthorized immigrants further contingent on border security goals.

The so-called path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants — if it happens — stands to face further hurdles in light of a "border surge" agreement announced Thursday in the Senate.

The border compromise — an amendment to the Senate's pending immigration reform bill — came from Republican Sens. John Hoeven and Bob Corker, of North Dakota and Tennessee respectively, with the blessing of the bipartisan Senate "Gang of Eight" group that introduced the bill in April.

It must still be voted on, but the amendment is being touted as a way to draw needed support for the bill from Republicans, who have all along complained of insufficient border security goals in the bill.

Make no mistake, this amendment delivers border security goals: Double the existing number of Border Patrol agents on the southern border to the tune of one agent every 1,000 feet, 700 miles of completed border fence, an entry-exit system to track who comes and goes, and mandatory proof of work authorization to discourage newcomers.

And the catch for immigrants: While people living in the U.S. illegally will still be initially able to apply for provisional legal status, as the Senate bill proposes, obtaining permanent legal status — i.e., a green card — won't be possible until border security goals are met.

From Sen. Hoeven's website, here's what would need to happen within 10 years of the bill becoming law before anyone can get a green card:

  • The Department of Homeland Security, after consultation with the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, the Inspector General of the Department, and the Comptroller General of the United States (GAO), has submitted 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 and the plan has been deployed and is operational.
  • The Border Patrol has deployed, maintained, and stationed 20,000 border patrol agents on the southern border in addition to the 18,500 agents already stationed there. This means an agent every 1,000 feet along the southern border.
  • An additional 350 miles of fencing has been completed (in addition to the 350 miles of fencing already on the ground).
  • The mandatory employment verification system has been fully implemented for all employers.
  • The mandated electronic entry/exit system has been fully implemented at all international air and sea ports of entry within the United States where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are currently deployed.

The border security plan also calls for surveillance equipment such as observation towers, helicopters and "high-tech tools like mobile surveillance systems, seismic imaging, Vader systems, infrared ground sensors, and unmanned aerial systems equipped with infrared radar cameras and long-range thermal imaging cameras." None of which comes cheap, as it will cost billions to implement.

However, it's favored by senators working on immigration reform over another amendment voted down Thursday that would have made the border security contingency much tighter, and the path to legal status far more distant. That proposal, from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), would have demanded "100 percent situational awareness and 90 percent operational control" of the southern border before unauthorized immigrants could even obtain provisional legal status.

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