WASHINGTON — Oklahoma's senators said Tuesday that they oppose the immigration bill now before the Senate because it won't guarantee secure borders.
Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, said the legislation allows the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to determine when the borders are secure enough to trigger a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
“The Department of Homeland Security has already proven itself incapable of properly securing the border, and the arbitrary triggers in this proposal allow the administration to certify that the borders are secure without any oversight from Congress,” Inhofe said.
A sweeping bill to reform immigration laws easily cleared two procedural hurdles on Tuesday, and the Senate is expected to spend weeks on amendments and debate. Inhofe voted twice against advancing the bill, while Coburn supported one of the motions and did not vote on the other.
At the White House, President Barack Obama urged Congress to approve the bill and said his administration has worked “to patch up some of the worst cracks in the system.”
He said, “We made border security a top priority. Today, we have twice as many border patrol agents as we did in 2004. We have more boots on the ground along our southern border than at any time in our history. And in part, by using technology more effectively, illegal crossings are near their lowest level in decades.”
Coburn said the border security system is “dysfunctional” and that the Homeland Security Department shouldn't be able to certify it as secure.
“If they set the criteria (for being secure) and meet the criteria they set, it's a slam dunk,” Coburn said.
Coburn said a bill that rewards illegal immigration and doesn't secure the border will encourage more illegal immigration.
Inhofe said the border fence required by the bill “cannot prevent illegal entry of immigrants, and we must eliminate the availability of entitlements and other public assistance resources that attract and keep these individuals inside the United States.
“In many instances, the current proposal before the Senate may weaken current law and therefore I cannot support it.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is planning to offer an amendment that would strengthen the border security provisions.
Obama and other Democrats said the bill was necessary to fix a broken system that “has no credible way of dealing with the 11 million men and women who are in this country illegally.
“And, yes, they broke the rules; they didn't wait their turn. They shouldn't be let off easy. They shouldn't be allowed to game the system. But at the same time, the vast majority of these individuals aren't looking for any trouble. They're just looking to provide for their families, contribute to their communities.”