The GOP's Immigration Dilemma Heads for the Border

The Atlantic
The GOP's Immigration Dilemma Heads for the Border
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The GOP's Immigration Dilemma Heads for the Border

Passing immigration reform depends on the Senate's Gang of Eight figuring out the right formula for border security measures that stand a good chance of being expensive, ineffective, and in the long run, embarrassing. After months of debate, the senators found an acceptable formula for the path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here — about 13 years of bureaucratic torture. Now they have to do the same thing for the 1,969-mile border with Mexico.

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Because of concerns over border security, the Gang will probably fail to get the 70 votes that Sen. Chuck Schumer said was necessary to pressure the House to pass the bill. "That tally is now seen as unattainable," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports, with Sens. Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, and John Cornyn expected to reject the bill. On Wednesday, the Senate rejected Paul's amendment, which would have required Congress to repeatedly vote to confirm the border is secure before giving immigrants legal status, The Wall Street Journal reports. And the Senate is working on a compromise to Cornyn's proposal, which would have required 90 percent of illegal border crossers to be arrested across 100 percent of the border, Politico reports. A Cornyn aide denied to Politico that he would back "Cornyn-lite." But the compromise would still ultimately do something symbolic and dumb: offer "a guarantee on finishing the fence along the Southern border." On Wednesday night, Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News that a big border security amendment was coming, and "I’m told that there will be a completion of the 700 mile fence."

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The Wall Street Journal's editorial board is lobbying hard for Republicans to pass immigration reform. It laments on Thursday that "The border could be defended by the 10th Mountain Division and Claymore antipersonnel mines and it wouldn't be secure enough" for some Republicans. The border is already more secure than it's been in 40 years, the Journal says. Arrests of illegal crosses has dropped from 1.1 million in 2005 to less than 365,000 last year. A guest worker program in the 1950s and 1960s dropped illegal immigration from 1 million a year to fewer than 50,000 a year. "Yet many of those on the right who claim to favor legal immigration also oppose guest-worker programs and other visa expansions. This betrays that they really want no new immigration."

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The fence especially will ultimately prove to be an embarrassment, The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henniger argues. In 2006, the Secure Border Initiative called for a "virtual fence" to be built along the border in Arizona with all kinds of cool high-tech: electronic towers, thermal imaging, underground sensors to detect people walking across. SBInet was no match for the desert. Ants ate the sensor wires. Harsh weather took out the electronics. In 2011, SBInet was replaced with another program — this one using war tech developed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Sen. John Thune's amendment to build "double-layered fencing" failed, but other Republicans will try to get the fence built. If they're successful, this will become "America's Berlin Wall," Henniger says. "Once built, it will never come down" — it'll just rot in the desert like France's Maginot Line, a symbol "of the Republican Party's permanent political legacy—a monument to negation."

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This is how bad the Journal wants immigration to pass: its opinion page calls anti-immigration Republicans both money-wasters and anti-immigrant on the same day.

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