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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Border Panel's Clout May Be Deal-Breaker

Democrats envision an advisory role; GOP seeks some power for group
[Hat Tip: the Clarion Ledger]
By Dan Nowicki, Arizona Republic: A bipartisan group of senators collaborating on immigration reform is divided on a proposed commission to scrutinize border security.

It’s a sticking point between Democrats inclined to limit the panel to an advisory role and Republicans who want it to have authority.

SW Border Fence
The group, which would be composed of governors, attorneys general and other “community leaders living along the Southwest border,” would gauge border-security progress and make a recommendation when it was satisfied that the legislation’s security provisions were in effect.

Only then, according to a framework of the bill by the socalled Gang of Eight senators, would undocumented immigrants already in the United States be able to start down a path to citizenship.

But activists on both sides of the debate have reacted coolly to the idea.


While Republicans want to make sure the panel has muscle, Democrats want to make sure that commissioners can’t politicize the process by using subjective criteria to perpetually claim that the border improvements are not good enough. They envision a commission more advisory in nature, with the secretary of Homeland Security making the final decision.

“We have not resolved anything on that issue yet,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “One of the things that you do in these negotiations is that you try to get some of the easier issues resolved before you get into the real tough ones. Kind of a momentum thing. So, we’re still working away on it.”

McCain said he and his seven Senate colleagues have been making progress on the bill, which is expected to be released this month.

The other members of the group are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

McCain said the bordercommission provision has proved tricky because the Constitution gives Congress authority over immigration and border issues. The authority of the proposed panel can’t trump that.

The lawmakers want the panel, which “has to have significant border representation,” to be objective and not politically motivated, McCain said, and senators are asking the Government Accountability Office for input. The GAO is Congress’ investigative arm.

“You’ve got to be careful about that, which is why I think it’s important to have some metrics as to what they could look at from a statistical standpoint that would ensure that we have effective control of the border,” McCain said.


Flake said the border commission is one of several issues that the Senate negotiators continue to work on, and the question about how much influence it will have on the final conclusion about the level of security remains unresolved.

Border Patrol So. Arizona
Immigration advocates would prefer legislation that does not make a pathway to citizenship contingent on border security, which they say has improved in recent years with the addition of Border Patrol personnel, technology and fencing.

The Senate group’s framework calls for a “tough but fair” path for prospective permanent residents and citizens that would include passing a background check, paying taxes, learning English and U.S. civics, and going to “the back of the line” of legal immigrants. However, they would be allowed to immediately secure probationary legal status, which would let them live and work in the country by registering with the government, passing a background check and paying a penalty.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform organization America’s Voice, called the proposed commission “worrisome” because of the potential for political mischief by conservatives.

“I’m not prepared to say it’s a deal-breaker for us, but I am prepared to say it’s excessive, it’s expensive and it’s mostly unnecessary,” Sharry said.

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