US Senate immigration bill boosted by border deal

June 21, 2013, 12:52 am

By DAVID ESPO and ERICA WERNER

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supporters of bipartisan U.S. immigration legislation smoothed the way Friday for likely Senate passage of their handiwork, overcoming last-minute disagreements at the bill's controversial core and tacking on other items certain to build support.

A procedural vote was set for Monday on the bill, which calls for a military-style surge to increase security at the U.S-Mexican border. At the same time it sets out a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States unlawfully.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska became the 11th Republican to announce her support for the legislation in the Democratic-controlled Senate. More were expected to follow, possibly enough to produce 70 votes or more in the 100-member chamber and easily overwhelm its critics.

Some Democrats said a heavy show of support at the end of next week could alter the bill's trajectory in the House, where majority Republicans strongly oppose citizenship for immigrants who came to the country illegally or overstayed their visa.

"Hopefully as congressmen look how their senators voted, they will be influenced by it," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has played a major role for Democrats on the issue.

Immigration is the rare issue these days to attract support from both major political parties. Opposition Republicans swung to the issue after Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Obama in last year's election — a warning to the largely white, conservative party that the country's demographics are changing. Obama would like to sign an immigration bill by the end of the year so he can point to a major legislative victory in the first year of his second term.

White House spokesman Jay Carney labeled the Senate agreement a breakthrough. He refrained from issuing an outright endorsement of the legislation, even though Cabinet secretaries were consulted on some portions of it and administration officials drafted others.

The day's developments marked a victory for the Senate's so-called Gang of Eight, four Democrats and four Republicans who spent months working out the basic framework of immigration legislation. They then warded off unwanted changes in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, and in recent days, negotiated significant alterations with a group of Republicans who were uncommitted but willing to swing behind the bill if it were changed.

The principal demand was for tougher border security, particularly after the Congressional Budget Office estimated this week the bill would fail to prevent a future buildup in the population of immigrants in the country illegally.

The result of the negotiations was a series of expensive and highly detailed steps to guard against future illegal immigration across the 2,000-mile (3,200 kilometer) border with Mexico.

For the so-called Yuma and Tucson sectors in Arizona, for example, the bill requires installation of 50 fixed towers; 73 fixed camera systems; 28 mobile surveillance systems; 685 unattended ground sensors, including seismic, imaging and infrared; and 22 handheld equipment devices, including thermal imaging systems and night vision goggles.

There are similar specifications for points of entry from Mexico. At the one in San Diego, the government is mandated to install two nonintrusive inspection systems; one radiation monitor and one detection and classification network.

The legislation also requires a doubling of the Border Patrol, with the hiring of 20,000 new agents, the purchase of 12 new unmanned surveillance drones and the construction of 350 miles (563 kilometers) of new fencing, to bring the total to 700 miles (1,126 kilometers).

Other provisions in the bill would require employers to verify the legal status of their workers, before they are hired and then periodically afterwards. A biometric system would be phased in at 30 airport crossings to track the comings and goings of foreigners.

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