WASHINGTON — A $38 billion plan to double the amount of border patrol agents and build more fencing easily cleared a procedural hurdle Monday as the Senate moved closer to passing a sweeping immigration reform bill.
The border security plan, written by two Republican senators and offered as an amendment to the immigration bill being considered by the Senate, advanced by a vote of 67-27, with 15 Republican senators voted in favor of it.
Both Oklahoma senators opposed moving the plan to the next stage of debate.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn, one of the authors of the so-called “border surge” proposal argued Monday that none of the bill's provisions granting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants would be triggered until after 20,000 more border agents were deployed and 350 more miles of fence constructed along the southern border.
Corker said the proposal, which also includes enhanced use of drones and other technology, “balances out” the bill's provisions for citizenship with tough border security measures that Republicans have been seeking for years.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, said the proposal was “full of holes'' and that some of the requirements could be waived by the secretary of the Homeland Security Department.
“She can waive the fence,” Coburn said.
Coburn said 20,000 additional border security officers “might work, but it's a tremendous waste of resources. It might be a jobs program.”
Coburn and some other Republicans characterized the proposal as political cover for those who want to support the immigration bill, which may be set for a final Senate vote later this week.
Supporters of the bill have been hoping to get as many as 70 votes in the 100-member Senate to give the bill more momentum and put pressure on the House to take up immigration legislation. The border security amendment that advanced Monday is expected to add Republican support for the overall bill.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who helped craft the bill, said the Congressional Budget Office — a nonpartisan arm of Congress — had studied the proposed amendment and determined that it would reduce illegal immigration.
Schumer said the addition of 20,000 more border security agents would allow one to be stationed every 1,000 feet from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas.
At the White House, President Barack Obama told business leaders that the Senate bill — which he supports — was at a “critical point.”
“And I hope that we can get the strongest possible vote out of the Senate, so that we can then move to the House and get this done before the summer break,'' Obama said.