WASHINGTON — Despite voting against most proposals to tighten border security in committee, a Republican senator who supports legalizing the status of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants says he is open to measures that would do just that.
“I’ll talk and listen to them,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview Thursday, referring to critics who say the bill falls short of promises to seal the border with Mexico.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a close ally of Graham and a member of the so-called “Gang of Eight” senators that sponsored the legislation, affirmed Graham’s position.
“We’ll do everything in our power to address their concerns. As a senator from Arizona, I’m very familiar with these problems,” McCain said in an interview Wednesday.
Sen. Michael Bennet, a member of the Gang of Eight, declined to field questions from reporters Thursday morning. The Colorado Democrat emerged from an elevator off the Senate floor talking with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another member of the ad hoc group, and walked the 25 to 30 steps to the chamber shoulder to shoulder with him.
Graham voted no on multiple GOP-sponsored amendments in the Senate Judiciary Committee that sought to bolster border security and immigration enforcement. Those measures included a proposal to prevent anyone from applying for citizenship until the southern border had been secured for six months, an amendment to not begin the legalization process until a double fence had been built, and a measure to use biometric rather than biographical data from those who seek to enter the country. Each measure died in committee.
The Judiciary panel approved the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Wednesday. The 844-page bill contains some measures that seek to secure the border. It would allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to increase the number of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers to 3,500 within four years and the Secretary would be required to show “progress” each year to the goal of adding agents.
In addition, the Judiciary Committee approved an amendment to S. 744 that Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sponsored to attain “effective control” of the entire southern border rather than just “high-risk” areas.
Yet opponents of the legislation have expressed skepticism about the bill’s provisions related to border security.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the enforcement mechanisms are “virtually toothless. The bill leaves it to the subjective discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, for border security and doesn’t (mandatorily) add a single border control agent.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the Committee of the Judiciary in the House, voiced similar concerns about the bill.
The online publication Politico reported this week that Goodlatte said its provisions “fall far short” of effective border security.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next month, where it is expected to pass. The bill’s fate in the House is more uncertain.