Sen. Cornyn Makes Play with Border Amendment

Texas’ senior Republican Senator, John Cornyn, has quickly emerged as the key negotiator in the passage of the Gang of Eight’s amnesty bill.

Offering a 134-page amendment to address the bill’s lack of border security measures, the second-ranking Senate Republican has announced that if the Senate adopts his amendment, he will vote for the Gang of Eight’s amnesty legislation. (Washington Post, June 5, 2013; Politico, June 13, 2013)

However, while Cornyn’s amendment (called “RESULTS”) makes several improvements to the bill, it does not change the bill’s core amnesty-first, enforcement-later approach.  Under the amendment, DHS must still submit a border security plan within 6 months, at which time DHS may begin processing applications for “registered provisional immigrant” status (RPI status). However, the Cornyn Amendment sets forth a list of specific items that must be included in the plan, such as the current state of operational control and situational awareness, an assessment of threats, surveillance capabilities, and a fencing strategy — although no fencing is actually required and no specific money is specifically set aside to construct fencing. (p.14-15)

In addition, the Cornyn Amendment does not change the fact that Congress is actually debating amnesty legislation despite the fact that DHS has no official metrics for measuring border security.  The amendment merely requires DHS, 90 days after enactment, to “implement metrics to measure the effectiveness of security between ports of entry along the Southern border.”  It also requires DHS to “implement metrics to measure the effectiveness of security at Southern border ports of entry.” (p.21-25)

With the amnesty program already underway, the Cornyn amendment makes only a few changes to the triggers that must be met before DHS can issue green cards to RPI aliens. The most notable change is a requirement that DHS implement a biometric entry and exit program, but even there, the amendment only applies that requirement to air and sea ports of entry, but not land ports of entry.  Moreover, it does not require the implementation of a biometric exit program at land ports of entry any time in the future. (p.7-9)

But, despite the fact that the Cornyn amendment still does not place a single obstacle in the way of illegal aliens gaining amnesty plus work and travel authorization, some Gang of Eight Senators are opposing it, calling the amendment a “poison pill” aimed at taking down the bill. “It’s not possible for us to support [Cornyn’s] amendment as it is presently written” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). “It’s a poison pill.” (Huffington Post, June 12, 2013) According to a Senate aide, Sen. Schumer (D-NY) told Sen. Cornyn on the senate floor, “You know full well that this a deal killer.” (NY Times, June 14, 2013) Sens. Schumer and McCain even went so far as to spread falsehoods in their Senate speeches about the costs and provisions of Sen. Cornyn’s amendment, which Cornyn quickly corrected. (See, June 12, 2013)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is going so far as to draft an alternative amendment. “A bunch of senators have been working on it,” he said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show Thursday. “A lot of Republicans want to be supportive of something but need to be able to go back home and tell people that they have taken serious steps to make sure this never happens again.” He also threatened the bill would not pass without the amendment. “It is going to have to be in there or this is not going to pass,” he said. (Roll Call, June 14, 2013)

Sens. McCain and Graham are also leading the charge for an alternative to the Cornyn amendment, though it is unclear whether these are the same efforts in which Sen. Rubio is engaged. Several GOP Senators are allegedly involved in the drafting, including Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND).  (Politico, June 13, 2013) “Generally speaking, all of us are just trying to find that sweet spot that addresses the Democratic sensibilities and ours,” said Corker. (Id.) “There are a lot of healthy conversations happening.” (Id.) Sen. Hoeven also made a statement about the talks, saying, “We’re trying to road test ideas, get input and maybe come up with something that can be kind of a consensus-type approach.” (Id.)

Interestingly, Sen. Cornyn has already told his colleagues he’d be willing to make changes to the amendment. Though he claimed he would not concede on the “fundamental substance” of his proposal, the Senator has been unclear as to which provisions are on the table. “There are certain elements that are non-negotiable, specifically the mechanism by which we would guarantee the security measures in the bill would actually be implemented,” he said. (The Hill, June 14, 2013)

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already endorsed the Cornyn amendment. “Sen. Cornyn, I think, has got, in my view, the key amendment to put us in a position where we can actually look at the American people with a straight face and say we are going to secure the border,” McConnell told reporters. (Id.) “That’s going to be a very, very important amendment.” (Id.) In addition, several GOP Senators have signed-on as co-sponsors: Sens. Lamar Alexander (TN), John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Mike Crapo (ID), Orrin Hatch (UT), Johnny Isakson (GA), Mike Johanns (NE), Mark Kirk (IL), Rob Portman (OH), Pat Roberts (KS), and Roger Wicker (MS).

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Content written by Federation for American Immigration Reform staff.

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