Sessions said the Hoeven-Corker amendment would not do enough to secure the border, although others expressed optimism that it would increase GOP support for the immigration overhaul in the Senate.
The Senate immigration bill got a boost Thursday, when a bipartisan group of lawmakers agreed to a “border surge” amendment that would double the number of border agents and spend $3.2 billion on equipment to seal off the southern border.
Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee unveiled the amendment Thursday afternoon and it quickly attracted more Republican votes to the bill (S 744). All four Republicans in the “gang of eight” who drafted the legislation are co-sponsors of the amendment.
Corker said he thought the amendment, if adopted, could give the bill the support of up to 15 GOP senators, including the four Republicans in the gang of eight. That would provide momentum as the bill heads to the House, where passage of an immigration overhaul is expected to be much more difficult.
Two GOP senators, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois and Dean Heller of Nevada, announced their support Thursday for the Hoeven-Corker amendment.
Kirk had previously contended the bill did not go far enough to enhance border security, but on Thursday he said another 20,000 border agents, “one every 1,000 feet,” would seal the border to his satisfaction and allow him to vote for the bill.
Heller said he could back the bill provided that the amendment is adopted and that no adverse changes are agreed to before final passage.
“A lot of us wouldn’t have come along if [Corker and Hoeven] didn’t work as hard as they did to put this package together,” he said. “This border-first amendment that strengthens the language in this particular piece of legislation is something I can support.”
The long-awaited amendment, expected to be formally introduced Thursday evening, came together over the past few days in a marathon series of meetings between Hoeven, Corker and Democratic negotiators.
Many Republicans have complained that the bill’s border security provisions are too vague and give too much discretion to the Homeland Security Department.
Democrats, meanwhile, have rejected proposals — such as one from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas — that would impose hard “triggers” on border security that could delay or complicate the path to citizenship for people living in the country illegally.
On Thursday, senators from both sides said the Hoeven-Corker amendment had found middle ground.
“It solves the riddle of how we deal with border security, without allowing somebody in future years who is against citizenship to impede that path,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the gang of eight. “I think it’s a real breakthrough.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a fellow author, called the Hoeven-Corker amendment “our chance to fix” the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.