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John Boehner

Senate Immigration Bill: On to the House

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fifteen days after the Senate passed S. 744—the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act—the House Republican caucus will hold a meeting to discuss immigration, just as the House prepares to tackle its own legislation, should it follow through on Speaker John Boehner’s plans to scrap the Senate bill. The meeting, which will be private, is slated for Wednesday, July 10. 

The Senate bill, which passed 68-32 on June 27, would earmark about $46 million to bolstering security on America's southern border over the next decade. The border security portion of the bill includes some large-scale provisions, most notably the installation of monitoring technology along the southern flank, the construction of an additional 700 miles of new—and higher—fencing, and a substantial increase in the number of Border Patrol agents.  

Also included in the sprawling piece of legislation—it’s nearly 2,000 pages in length—is a measure that would require foreign workers to carry biometrically verifiable ID cards, which include a photo and a fingerprint.

Last week I spoke to Marcus Dunn, director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, who said he was encouraged by this inclusion, and optimistic that even if the House does its own immigration bill, biometrics would remain part of the equation. 

In our conversation, Dunn made a strong point regarding technology-based measures included in mammoth—and often polarizing—pieces of legislation like the Senate Immigration bill. Such measures, he said, have the advantage of being less emotionally charged than, say, debates about paths to citizenship, employment implications and wages. So, should the House take its time crafting piecemeal immigration reform, it’s not unrealistic to imagine a technological solution preceding a policy one.

Testament to the relative emotional neutrality of some of the security measures can be found in the amendment package, proposed a day before the bill passed, by a pair of Republican Senators: Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D. Many of the aforementioned provisions were contained in their eleventh hour proposal, and several commentators have credited the amendment as a key reason the bill gained enough bipartisan support to pass. It doesn't seem like a stretch to say that the security portion of the bill was crucial in allowing the Senate to function as it's supposed to: like a political "cooling saucer," a chamber where cooler heads prevail and compromise can be struck. In an era defined by deep ideological fissures in Washington, these things cannot be taken for granted.

With political pressure mounting to get some kind of legislation passed, the meeting scheduled for Wednesday bears close watching. Will Speaker Boehner backtrack on his statements about the House doing its own legislation, or stand firm? Will the Senate bill be jettisoned, or does it have more support in the House than many think? For my part, I'll be looking for what lawmakers have to say about that $46 billion figure. Stay tuned...