WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of senators finalizing a landmark immigration bill has agreed to require greatly increased surveillance of the border and apprehensions of people trying to cross it, a person familiar with the proposals said Wednesday.
The legislation, to be released within days, would call for surveillance of 100 percent of the U.S. border with Mexico and apprehension of 90 percent of people trying to cross in certain high-risk areas. People living here illegally could begin to get green cards in 10 years but only if a new southern border security plan is in place, employers have adopted mandatory electronic verification of their workers' legal status and a new electronic exit system is operating at airports and seaports.
The person provided the information on condition of anonymity because the deliberations were private.
The contours of the tough new border security plans emerged as senators moved closer to unveiling sweeping legislation that would put some 11 million immigrants living here illegally on a path to citizenship and allow tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled workers into the country on new visa programs, in addition to securing the border.
Lawmakers and aides said all the major elements were complete, or close to. A final deal was near on a new visa for agriculture workers. There were small details to be dealt with on visas for high-tech workers, but Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said it wasn't enough to hold up the bill.
"We are closer now than we have been in 25 years for serious immigration reform," Durbin told reporters Wednesday after he and other Democrats in the Senate negotiating group briefed members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "This president is behind it, and there is a strong, growing bipartisan effort in the Senate to support it. We hope that the House will do the same."
Meanwhile tens of thousands of pro-immigration activists massed outside the Capitol and in cities around the country to push Congress to act. They waved American flags and carried signs reading, "Reform immigration for America now!"
The border security piece of the legislation is critical to getting support from Republicans, but some Democrats have opposed making a path to citizenship contingent on border security. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the new requirements wouldn't impede citizenship.
"A lot of people here would not want to put dollars into the border, but as a price to get citizenship, as long as it's not an impediment to citizenship but rather works alongside citizenship, it's something we can all live with," Schumer said, after talking to the Hispanic House members. "What we've said all along is triggers have to be objective and attainable in a way it doesn't interfere or delay with people becoming citizens, and that's in the bill."
According to the person familiar with the proposals, the new border security requirements call for 100 percent surveillance of the entire border, and apprehending 90 percent of border crossers or would-be crossers — or getting them to turn back to Mexico — in sectors where the majority of unauthorized entries take place.