- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Democrats say they are willing to accept tough border security as part of an amnesty for illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” but they’ve offered few substantive ideas for what that means in practice, struggling to move beyond a vague call for more “technology” as the solution.

What is clear is what Democrats won’t accept. Rank-and-file senators and House members said they will resist President Trump’s demand for a substantial new round of fence-building, calling it a waste of money and casting doubt over the ability to find a middle ground for a possible immigration deal.

“I’m open to border security that makes sense using technology and other methods,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, added: “I’ve supported all kinds of things. Technology. Personnel. But I want it to be effective.”

What Democrats are willing to accept could go a long way toward determining whether an immigration deal can clear Congress over the next five weeks, as lawmakers race the March 5 date when the Trump administration begins the final phaseout of the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty.

Mr. Trump has said a deal must couple legal status for Dreamers — he’s suggested a total of 1.8 million — with border security, limits to the chain of family migration and an end to the Diversity Visa Lottery.

Democrats and some Republicans have rejected the chain migration plank, and have suggested alternatives to the visa lottery. All sides say they accept the need for action on border security. But that’s about as far as they get.

“I think we need to wait and see what a reasonable plan looks like and I think it is going to be important to hear from the senators who represent communities along the border,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who said he would prefer technology over fencing.

“I don’t like the wall. I think it is a waste of money,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley, New York Democrat.

Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, said he was against every security measure the president put forward, saying there’s no proof that a legalization now would invite even more illegal immigrants in the future.

He said given the lack of agreement over what border security should look like, that issue should be put off while Congress acts on a narrow bill that only protects Dreamers.

“Here’s the deal. We all agree that we ought to protect the DACA recipients so why don’t we just protect them,” he said. “Why do they have to be held hostage.”

Republicans said Democratic leaders’ unwillingness to embrace significant enforcement was endangering the ongoing talks.

“While the president has made a very generous proposal our colleagues, Senator [Charles E.] Schumer or Senator [Richard] Durbin, have not so far responded with any counterproposal at all,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican.

Homeland Security earlier this month submitted a plan calling for 722 miles of new and replacement fencing along the U.S.-Mexico line. The 1,952-mile border currently has 354 miles of fencing and another 300 miles of vehicle barriers, which allow animals and people on foot to cross, but are designed to stop cars and trucks from barreling through.

Border Patrol agents say more barriers are needed. Line agents say they can point to specific places where additional fencing would help funnel illegal traffic, along with more manpower, sensor technology and roads to be able to patrol the fence.

Agents say one major improvement would be getting more air support during critical nighttime hours.

“Crime is like water, it takes the path of least resistance,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council. “President Trump gave congress the momentum it needed to once and for all secure the border so that this topic isn’t a subject of debate for the next 20 years like it’s been for the past 20 years. If Congress doesn’t act by providing the manpower and infrastructure to secure the border, they will shoulder all of the blame and we’ll continue talking about this issues for years to come.

In 2013, the last time the Senate debated a broad immigration proposal, every Democrat in the chamber backed a massive infusion of border security spending to build 350 miles of new fencing and double the size of the Border Patrol to about 40,000 agents.

Some Democrats said that paved the way for a big package this time.

“I’ve already voted for $42 billion, so hell, I can vote for about anything,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat. “In 2013 I voted for it. We had the whole enchilada.”

He stressed that the president’s proposal for border security was more than building a wall.

“It’s not just a wall,” he said. “There is so much that needs to be done. Wherever we need a wall, build a wall. Wherever we need to fix the wall, fix the wall. Wherever we need drones, need drones technology, need technology [for] point of entry, we need agents, we need lots of things.”

Sen. Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat, also said he would support 2013-style border security changes.

“What matters is getting us to focus on two issues: A pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and border security,” he said. “Within that, the details should be worked out by Homeland Security.”

Pro-enforcement groups say stopping a new flow of illegal immigrants requires changes to the law to crack down on loopholes illegal immigrants learned to exploit during the Obama administration.

That includes allowing faster screening and deportation of Unaccompanied Alien Children from Central America and more powers to detain other illegal immigrants, making sure they’re able to be deported when judges finally rule on their cases.

Democrats have said they won’t accept those changes in the current negotiations.

Instead, the plans Democrats have publicly backed are far more constrained.

The border security in the proposal worked out by Sens. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, amounted to a $1.6 billion first installment of border fencing, and another $1.1 billion for non-wall improvements such as border roads.

Yet another bipartisan proposal sponsored by Republican Rep. Will Hurd of Texas and Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar of California doesn’t include any new fencing or wall. Instead it calls for technology, additional immigration judges, and a study to determine what future border security should look like.

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