Stricter Border Security Could Help or Kill Immigration Reform

PHOTO: fenceBloomberg via Getty Images
A secondary barrier runs parallel to the U.S.-Mexico border fence in San Diego, March 21, 2012.

An immigration reform bill heading to the Senate floor will need at least a few Republican votes to pass, but the bill's sponsors would like a resounding show of support to help it gain momentum as it moves through Congress.

That means courting Republican senators. The hunt for allies, however, could cause some tensions among the bipartisan group that crafted the legislation.

Take this planned amendment by Republican Senator John Cornyn (Texas).

The amendment would reportedly rewrite the entire border security section of the immigration reform bill.

One of the biggest changes would be in regards to legalization for undocumented immigrants.

Under the bill as it stands, people who qualify for legal status would have to wait 10 years before they could apply for citizenship.

Cornyn would make that pathway more tenuous.

As outlined, his amendment would require the federal government to meet certain border security requirements before legalized immigrants would be able to apply to become legal permanent residents. That could mean that the decade-long immigration limbo currently proposed in the bill could stretch on indefinitely, if federal officials determine that border goals haven't been met.

The new approach to border security would likely create a showdown between the immigration bill's sponsors, the Republican and Democratic senators who make up the so-called "Gang of Eight."

Cornyn reportedly wrote the amendment with the help of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a key player as the legislation moves to the Senate floor.

A Republican aide familiar with the talks said that Rubio's camp will want to see the language of the amendment once it's finalized, but that the outline appears to reflect the changes that Republican senators are calling for.

If Rubio is leaning toward supporting Cornyn's position, at least one of his Democratic counterparts in the Gang of Eight is moving in the opposite direction.

Referring to a Politico article about the amendment, Juan Pachon, a spokesperson for Sen. Robert Menendez, gave this response:

"As the article describes it, Sen. Menendez would not support an amendment that does this."

A spokesperson for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the architect of the immigration compromise, said their office planned to review it on Wednesday.

Remember -- the immigration bill won't need many Republican votes to pass the Senate. And there are a lot of conservatives whose support will come easier than Cornyn.

But as one immigration reform supporter told me earlier this week, someone like Cornyn could bring more Republicans along with him. And if the bill's sponsors are serious about scoring 70 aye votes in the 100-person Senate, they may need to negotiate.