Reprising his role as cheerleader in chief, President Obama on Tuesday urged the Senate to quickly pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill and dismissed as unfounded Republican concerns about border security.
Closing holes along the U.S.-Mexico boundary remains a chief concern for opponents of the measure, which appears destined to pass the Senate after garnering the needed votes to head off any potential filibuster. It will face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled House, where border security also is a top priority.
But Mr. Obama used Tuesday's speech at the White House to begin turning the tables on critics of the measure, arguing that a vote against it is actually a vote against shoring up the border.
"If passed, this bill would be the biggest commitment to border security in our nation's history. It would put another $6.5 billion on top of what we're already spending toward stronger, smarter security along our borders," he said while flanked by labor and business leaders, clergymen and other backers of immigration reform.
"I know there's a lot of talk right now about border security, so let me repeat: today illegal border crossings are near their lowest level in decades," he continued. "If passed, the Senate bill as currently written and as is hitting the floor would put in place the toughest border enforcement plan that America has ever seen. So, nobody is taking border enforcement lightly."
Illegal crossings from Mexico are indeed down in recent years, but there's some dispute over the reasons. There are, as the president claims, more agents patrolling the border right now than in any prior year, but the ramp-up began in earnest during the George W. Bush administration.
Details aside, virtually everyone agrees that more must be done to stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico.
Some Republicans simply believe the existing Senate measure won't get the job done. Furthermore, they're skeptical that the federal government will live up to any security commitments made in the legislation.
"I'm going to need more than an assurance from [Homeland Security Secretary Janet A.] Napolitano, for instance, that the border is secure to feel comfortable about the situation on the border," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, offered an amendment to the measure that lays out "commonsense solutions" to achieve "border security metrics," calling for at least a 90 percent apprehension rate of all attempted crossings.
"If we don't guarantee results on border security, if we don't guarantee to the American people that we actually are going to get serious about stopping the flow of people illegally ... I think we guarantee the failure of bipartisan immigration reform," he said on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday. "The federal government has always said the right things when it comes to reassuring the American people, but it's never been able to translate those promises into results that are actually implemented."
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