Senate immigration deal includes tougher border security
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A bipartisan amendment intended to increase Republican support for a Senate immigration bill would require 20,000 more border agents, completing a 700-mile fence on the frontier with Mexico and taking other steps before undocumented immigrants can get green cards, GOP sponsors of the compromise said Thursday.
The proposal, negotiated by a group of senators from both parties known as the "Gang of Eight," also calls for deploying $3.2 billion in technology upgrades sought by the border patrol.
Additionally, it seeks worker verification and border entry-exit controls before the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States can get permanent residency.
GOP Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee introduced the compromise amendment on Thursday, saying it incorporated proposals from other senators to try to fix a broken immigration system.
Hoeven noted that the bill would allow immigrants now living illegally in the country to get temporary legal status as "registered provisional immigrants," but the increased security measures must be in place before they can get green cards to make them permanent residents.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the "Gang of Eight," noted it would take "a couple of years" to train and deploy the new agents in an expansion that would almost double the current force.
The Department of Homeland Security would verify when the triggers for improved border security had been met to begin issuing green cards, Graham added. He also said the measure would include increased fees and other mechanisms to pay for the cost expected to exceed $20 billion.
Other GOP members of the "Gang of Eight" said they supported the plan.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said it would improve border security, while Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake noted that he expected the amendment would persuade a dozen or so Republicans to support the overall bill.
"This border security package will bring on a number of Republicans," Flake said. "We've always said the bill would be improved through the process and this is part of that improvement."
Supporters want to win at least 70 votes in the 100-member Senate, hoping such a solid majority would give the measure much-needed momentum in the GOP-controlled House.
Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner rejected having the GOP-controlled chamber vote on an immigration measure if it needed Democratic votes to pass.
"I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have majority support of Republicans," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters.
Some conservative GOP senators remained skeptical that the proposal would address their concerns.
"The Senate is about to make the same mistake of legalizing people without securing the border," said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who called the compromise "more empty promises."
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said the compromise means "amnesty will occur."
Conservative Republicans oppose the plan as written because it provides a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.
They call such a move an amnesty for lawbreakers, and they fear the influx of likely Democratic voters in future elections.
In addition, they reject the measure as a "big government" approach that will increase pressure on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
More moderate GOP leaders and legislators believe Republicans risk worse electoral damage if the party is blamed for blocking immigration reform, which is a top priority of President Barack Obama.
In last year's election, Obama won a strong majority of the Hispanic vote in defeating GOP nominee Mitt Romney, and Republican strategists warn of similar results if the party is considered hostile to immigrants.
Rubio said the alternative to immigration reform was keeping in place a broken system that has led to problems cited by opponents of the legislation.
Vice President Joe Biden made an impassioned appeal for immigration reform on Thursday, telling a prayer breakfast with Latino leaders that "it's time we pass fair -- firm but fair -- reforms to bring these 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows."
Calling the legislation "the morally right thing to do," Biden said "it is not hyperbole in my view to suggest, that for the people we care about, we're at the cusp in our generation of making hope and history rhyme."
A CNN/ORC International poll released this week showed that a solid majority of respondents -- 62% -- think border security should be the main focus of immigration legislation, with 36% saying the legislation should emphasize a path to citizenship for immigrants living illegally in the country.
The poll showed Democrats divided evenly on the question, while independents and Republicans strongly called for a focus on border security.