Immigration bill will require compromise, senators say

McCain, Flake, 2 more get firsthand look in tour of Ariz. border
2013-03-28T00:00:00Z Immigration bill will require compromise, senators sayPerla Trevizo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

NOGALES, Ariz. - The comprehensive immigration reform bill that's likely to be filed when senators return to Washington in two weeks will be heavy on compromise, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said after a border tour here Wednesday.

Most of the so-called "Gang of Eight" meetings regarding immigration reform have begun with Arizona and have ended with Arizona, said Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, during a news conference at the Santa Cruz County Complex after touring the U.S.-Mexico border at Nogales.

"For me it's a reminder of how comprehensive this work really is and how much care we have to take not to create unintended consequences in the work we are doing," he said.

"Not everybody is going to get everything they want in this bill," he said, "but if we can get the kind of bipartisan cooperation that has been demonstrated by the negotiators in this group of eight, I think we can be successful and we can fix a lot of the issues that ail us."

Four senators, including Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, toured parts of the border by helicopter and met with Border Patrol agents and customs officers on the ground to see firsthand what's going on in Arizona.

During their tour, the senators even saw a woman use a ladder to get over the border fence before being apprehended by the Border Patrol, according to a tweet by McCain.

Earlier this year, the senators released their framework for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to legal status for the 11 million estimated to be in the country illegally, "contingent upon our success in securing our borders and addressing overstays."

Last month, both Gov. Jan Brewer and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano toured the border separately.

Brewer invited President Obama to come down and see how the border is not secure. Napolitano said in a news release that the Border Patrol is better staffed today that at any time in its 88-year history and apprehensions had decreased to 365,000 - a 78 percent decline from their peak in 2000. Apprehensions are used as an indication of the illegal immigration flow.

After touring the border Wednesday, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said he realized the border has adequate manpower but needs more technology.

"You can read, you can study and you can talk, but until you see things, it doesn't become reality," he said. "Arizona is probably the state that is more affected by immigration than any other, so being here and seeing what's going on is very important."

And 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 that 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.

CBP staffing grew about 50 percent, from 41,001 to 61,354, and the biggest share went to the Border Patrol in the Southwest.

"The bottom line is we are 90 percent there," Schumer said about the immigration reform proposal. "We have a few problems to work on," but he didn't want to elaborate what those were.

"Straightening out our future flow of immigration, both on the family and job side, is very important to do, and securing the border is very important to do, and we can do all of those together," Schumer said. "That's what we aim to do and being here just deepens your understanding of both how difficult the problem is but how important it is we solve all aspects of the immigration problem."

Area lawmakers have been meeting with their constituents this week, and a lot of the discussion has been on the issue of immigration.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva took part in a community forum Tuesday hosted by the 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.

He said most lawmakers agree on a path to legal status, but the question remains on how many years the process should take.

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at ptrevizo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo

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