The immigration reform bill introduced last week has already come under close scrutiny by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which today held its third hearing on the legislation in five days. While some of the content of the hearings edged toward demagoguery, much of the questioning revealed real points of conflict that will likely guide the committee amendment process in early May. The main policy questions about the bill are largely the same now as they were before it was released. They center on the rigidity of the so-called “border triggers” and Republican ambivalence around provisions that provide the Department of Homeland Security discretion to stop deportations or admit people to a path to citizenship.
The bill introduced last week by a bipartisan group of Senators will open the possibility of citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants currently living without papers in the United States. But to get there, it first requires that Homeland Security reach a set of benchmarks to expand an already bellicose border enforcement infrastructure.
In today’s hearing, Republicans said that the legislation leaves the Secretary of Homeland Security too much power to verify over verifying the security of the border.
“Once the Secretary certifies that the security and fencing plans are substantially deployed, operational and completed, green cards are allocated to those here illegally,” said ranking committee member, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. But, he added, “There’s not much of a definition of substantially in the bill,”
On border security, the legislation sets high targets and allocates $6 to $7 billion in new border spending for fencing, cameras, drones and 3,500 border patrol guards.
It also increases criminal prosecutions of people trying to cross. Ultimately, the bill establishes as a benchmark that immigration authorities achieve “effective control” of the border, defined as stopping at least 90 percent of attempted crossings in certain areas.
If the Secretary does not certify these are met, none of those on the path to citizenship will receive a green card.