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GOP Senators Push New Border Bill

Despite little interest from leaders in both parties in resuming work on the issue, a growing coalition of moderate and conservative GOP Senators have continued to doggedly pursue immigration reform legislation and appear to be coalescing around a proposal backed by Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.).

The proposal — which would address border security issues related only to the immigration debate — already has drawn significant support from a broad range of Republicans, including presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), John Cornyn (Texas), Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Mel Martinez (Fla.).

But Democratic aides familiar with Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) thinking have said there is almost no chance stand-alone immigration legislation will re-emerge on the Senate floor during this session of Congress, and that advocates of reform will have to content themselves with whatever minor revisions they can attach to larger bills. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also has acknowledged a major rewrite of immigration laws is likely not possible this year, as has President Bush.

A Republican close to the group conceded that passage of the bill this year appears unlikely and said the sponsors introduced it as a “place marker” for future efforts. However, the source did note that the mix of conservatives such as Sessions and Cornyn with moderates such as Specter, McCain and Graham could help gin up broader interest in the coming months. “It certainly does add an interesting angle,” the aide said.

Kyl argued that despite the death of comprehensive reform Congress must continue to work on the issue. “The debate we had a few weeks ago on immigration reform should not deter Congress from doing what is still needed to secure our borders and reduce illegal immigration,” Kyl said.

McCain — a prominent backer of the comprehensive deal cut between Senate Republicans and Democrats, which ultimately failed — agreed. “The failure of the Senate to pass comprehensive immigration [reform] was a huge disappointment,” McCain said, adding that while “we must move forward with other issues, we can show the American people that we are serious about securing our nation’s border.”

The bill would boost the number of agents patrolling the border and increase the amount of fence along the Mexican border and other impediments to illegal crossings. The bill also would authorize additional spending for high-tech radar and aerial surveillance efforts.

The bill also would authorize additional spending on interior enforcement efforts by the Department of Homeland Security, which has been one of the biggest demands of conservatives. As part of that provision, it would require the DHS to set up a new employment verification system to ensure companies are employing legal residents.

The Democratic National Committee on Friday pounced on McCain’s support of the bill, accusing the GOP presidential candidate of flip-flopping on the issue. “Turning his back on one of his signature issues in hopes of regaining traction in his sputtering presidential campaign,” the DNC said in a release.

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