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Cornyn, Rubio Highlight Border Security Questions

Cornyn, left, and Rubio, center, are talking about border security ahead of the immigration bill reaching the Senate floor. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Cornyn, left, and Rubio, center, are talking about border security ahead of the immigration bill reaching the Senate floor. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Even before the immigration overhaul formally reaches the Senate floor, the amendment maze is already taking shape.

As we reported Tuesday, a number of GOP senators are already planning amendments on subjects ranging from the definition of operational control of the border to enforcement of the requirement that immigrants applying for a newly-created legal status pay back taxes.

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, unveiled his own border security amendment in advance of next week, just after Republican “gang of eight” member Marco Rubio said he’d support GOP-backed security changes.

The bill sent to the Senate floor by the Judiciary Committee includes a number of provisions providing discretion to the executive branch that Rubio, a Florida Republican, suggests may need to be made explicit to gain additional support from his side of the aisle.

“Let’s strengthen the border security parts of this bill so that they’re stronger, so that they don’t give overwhelming discretion to the Department of Homeland Security. I think if we can do that, then you’re going to be able to get something done. But if you can’t, then it’s not going to happen,” Rubio told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday night.

In an opinion piece in Wednesday’s Dallas Morning News, Cornyn outlined his immigration security amendment.

“Strengthening border security, enhancing interior enforcement, speeding up legitimate trade and travel at our land ports of entry, and preventing rape and other human-rights abuses along the southern border: These are not alternatives to fixing our broken immigration system; they are complements to the kinds of sensible reforms that members of both parties have endorsed,” Cornyn wrote. “Even as we debate the most controversial issues, we should be doing everything possible to promote the type of legal immigration that benefits our economy and our broader society.”

Given Rubio’s recent statements, Cornyn’s proposal and others like it could pose tests to the unity of the “gang of eight” senators — four Democrats and four Republicans — who drafted the initial bill. At some point, the security provisions could get too stringent, possibly costing the measure Democratic votes. Some on the left have already expressed discomfort about provisions regarding high-skilled immigrant visas.

Asked by Hewitt if he would vote for the bill without amendments to enhance border security, Rubio indicated otherwise, suggesting he might prefer not advancing a bill through the Senate to passing one that would put the GOP-led House in a bind.

“I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no. If they don’t pass, then we have to keep working to ensure that we get to a bill that can become a law. We’re not interested in passing a Senate bill,” Rubio said. “We’re interested in passing a law that reforms a broken legal immigration system, that begins to enforce the law, and that deals with the 11 million people who are here illegally.”

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