WASHINGTON (AP) — Far-reaching immigration legislation offering the prize of U.S. citizenship to millions is swiftly gaining ground in the Senate following agreement between Republicans and Democrats on dramatic steps aimed at securing the border with Mexico.
The deal to double Border Patrol agents and fencing along the Southwest border won support Thursday from four undecided Republican senators for the immigration bill that's a top priority for President Barack Obama. More appeared likely to come on board, putting the legislation within reach of securing the bipartisan vote that its authors say is needed to ensure serious consideration by the GOP-controlled House.
"It is safe to say that this agreement has the power to change minds in the Senate," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a lead author of the bill. "With this agreement, we have now answered every criticism that has come forward about the immigration bill."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the deal should satisfy those Republicans concerned that the border security provisions in the bill were too weak. "If they can't accept these provisions, then border security is not their problem," McCain said.
The deal was developed by Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, in consultation with Schumer, McCain and other members of the so-called Gang of Eight senators who wrote the immigration bill. It prevents immigrants now here illegally from attaining permanent resident status until a series of steps have been taken to secure the border.
These include doubling the Border Patrol with 20,000 new agents, 18 new unmanned surveillance drones, 350 miles of new fencing to add to the 350 miles already built, and an array of fixed and mobile devices to maintain vigilance, including high-tech tools such as infrared ground sensors and airborne radar.
The new provisions would be put in place over a decade, in line with the 10-year path to a permanent resident green card that the bill sets out for immigrants here illegally. During that time, the immigrants could live and work legally in a provisional status.