How a Border Security Focus Could Backfire for Republicans

The GOP is committing to a decade of spending.

ByABC News
April 11, 2013, 10:30 AM

April 11, 2013— -- As thousands rallied for immigration reform at the Capitol on Wednesday, several key details emerged about a nearly finalized bill in the Senate.

See Also: Immigration Rally Pressures Congress to Act Fast

The bill will give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, but will require that qualifying immigrants spend a decade in a probationary immigration status before being eligible to apply for a green card.

But there's a catch. Immigrants won't be able to move out of the probationary status unless the country meets certain benchmarks for border security 10 years down the road.

The benchmarks, according to The New York Times, are an operational border security plan, a completed border fence, a mandatory employment verification system across the country and a system to track exits at airports and seaports.

The border security plan would require surveillance of 100 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border and 90 percent efficacy in catching unauthorized crossers, which would be determined through a formula based on apprehensions and people who turn back without crossing, according to the Times.

As the news leaked on Wednesday, Democrats involved in drafting immigration reform legislation tried to assure their colleagues and activists that the border security requirement wouldn't block a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants.

The border security trigger, however, is designed to just that -- block citizenship if the predetermined goals aren't accomplished.

Meeting those goals shouldn't be too hard, so long as the federal government is willing to put more money into militarizing the border. The federal government spent nearly $18 billion on immigration enforcement in the 2012 fiscal year, and the reform bill would commit as much as $3.5 billion to border security over the first five years, with the possibility of more funding.

Meanwhile, experts say migration from Mexico is unlikely to return to peak levels seen in the 1990s. Mexican birth rates have dropped, the country's economy has improved and a lot of people who once lived in Mexico now live in the U.S.

Republicans, the party of fiscal conservatism, may find themselves defending an expense with no tangible return. Or having to drum up fear about illegal immigration from Latin America. All while trying to win over Latino voters.

That won't be the worst part, though.

They'll need to justify keeping a large group of people, many of whom will be Hispanic immigrants, in a second-class status until those border-security metrics are met.

Under this proposal as it's been reported, that dynamic will last for at least 10 years. Maybe more if the Department of Homeland Security somehow doesn't meet its goals.

At the same time, there appears to be a public appetite for a shorter "probationary" period for undocumented immigrants. Fifty-one percent of Americans say that undocumented immigrants should have to wait five years before they become eligible for citizenship, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Only 12 percent said they should wait 10 years.

If Republicans can help pass an immigration reform, it could benefit millions of people living in the U.S. without papers.

But that victory may be sullied by a decade of mandatory squabbling over the same issues the party was trying to move past.