WASHINGTON — The Senate voted in favor Wednesday of the “border surge” amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill, boosting Republican support and paving the way to final passage expected later this week.
In a vote of 69-29, the border security amendment picked up 15 Republican votes — an early indicator that the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform is one vote short of the 70 votes that proponents want to send the bill to the House with momentum.
“Americans want immigration, there’s no doubt — but that means securing the border first,” Hoeven said Wednesday before the vote.
The amendment, originally drafted by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and amended to its final form by Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, attempts to address the Republican demand border security built into the bill in several ways.
The “border surge” amendment mandates 700 miles of pedestrian-crossing preventative fencing to the southern border. The 651 miles of current fencing includes only 352 miles of this type — the amendment would almost double it.
The number of Border Patrol agents would also be almost doubled from about 21,000 current to 40,000 prospective over a period of 10 years under Hoeven-Corker.
In what Sen. Leahy referred to as “a Christmas wish list for Halliburton,” Border Patrol agents would be outfitted with new thermal, infrared, radar and night vision equipment, along with Blackhawk helicopters, surveillance drones and spotting towers.
Exit tracking and E-verify systems for following biographical departures from land and sea ports, as well as confirming work eligibility were the final major components, which add a total cost of roughly $40 billion to the final bill.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, which scores bills according to their costs and benefits with varying accuracy, the cost of the amendment would be more than made up for in the total bill — saving the country $197 billion in deficit spending within the first ten years of enactment.
By the second decade, the bill would cut an additional $700 billion according to CBO, totaling deficit savings at $857 billion after the projected cost of Hoeven-Corker.
“If you don’t pass the legislation, you don’t get the $850 billion in deficit reduction,” Hoeven said.
Beyond the deficit, the CBO report estimated immigration reform would escalate national gross domestic product by more than 3 percent in the first decade, more than 5 percent in the second. Money paid into Social Security and other welfare programs by immigrants granted citizenship under the bill would total more than money paid out, according to CBO.
In a final point touted by Republicans in favor of the bill, the Hoeven-Corker amendment would prevent issuing green card statuses until after the “border surge” components are in place.