NOGALES, Ariz. — More technology and better coordination among agencies might be what it takes to secure the U.S.-Mexico border enough to offer a path to citizenship to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, a group of senators said.
Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake were among the four lawmakers of the so-called “Gang of Eight” working on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, who toured the Arizona border by helicopter and met with Border Patrol agents Wednesday morning.
Securing the border has become the pre-requisite for any comprehensive immigration reform bill that would bring “out of the shadows,” those who are here illegally, which is “a vital part of any legislation,” according to Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York who also toured the border.
“You can read about it, study it, talk about it, but until you see this, it doesn’t become reality,” said Schumer during a news conference. “Arizona might be the state more affected than any other.”
The senators apparently saw a woman use a ladder to get over the border fence before being apprehended by Border Patrol, according to a tweet McCain sent earlier in the day.
After touring the border, Schumer said, he realized there border has adequate manpower but needs more technology.
“It can’t be done with one fence or with agents lined up along the border,” he said. “There’s not one solution.”
The lawmakers wouldn’t give specifics about how much money they will propose to spend on border technology, but McCain said, “we are talking about a lot of money.”
Schumer was quick to add the plan is for the bill to pay for itself.
Between fiscal years 2005 to 2012, the budget of Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, increased from $6.3 billion to $11.7 billion, according the Migration Policy Institute.
And CBP staffing grew about 50 percent from 41,001 to 61,354 — the biggest share went to the Border Patrol in the Southwest.
Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado who was part of the touring group, said he has seen how the broken immigration system has affected a wide range of sectors of his state from the ranchers to the education system.
The senators are expecting to file the bill the first day they return to Washington in a couple of weeks.
“Nobody is going to be totally happy with this legislation,” McCain said, “because we have to make compromises.”
“The bottomline is we are 90 percent there,” Schumer said. “We have a few problems to work on,” but didn’t want to elaborate what those were.
Area lawmakers have been meeting with their constituents this week and a lot of it has been around the issue of immigration reform.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva participated in a community forum Tuesday hosted by Border Action Network.
He said that any enforcement plans should be transparent and audited.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow but a compromise we are going to have to accept,” he told attendees.