Last week, Gang of Eight members called the idea that comprehensive immigration reform should commit more agents to the U.S. Mexico border, advanced in an amendment proposed by Sen. John Cornyn, for what it is: utterly wrong. Senator Chuck Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, said, “Most experts have told us [border agents] will not do close to as good a job as the drones and the helicopters and the more mobile assets.”
“[To] hire 10,000 more border patrol [agents] is not a recognition of what we really need,” said Sen. John McCain. “I have been on the border in Arizona for the last 30 years. To somehow say there have not been significant advancements in border security defies the facts.”
So when the Gang of Eight reached a deal yesterday to almost double the number of patrollers along Mexico—from 21,000 to 40,000, and far more than the 5,000 in Cornyn’s proposal—observers were, not surprisingly, floored.
The “why” of the deal, which was hammered out by Republican Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven over the past few weeks, is pretty obvious. By (unnecessarily) fattening up their bill’s border security provisions, the Gang of Eight has raised the number of votes they can reasonably count on from the right, bringing the total votes in the Senate, they hope, to nearly 70.
But the “what” of it is more troubling. The deal is not nearly as far-out as Cornyn’s amendment, which contained a “trigger” requiring agents to apprehend 90 percent of attempted illegal border crossings before undocumented immigrants in the U.S. could begin the pathway to citizenship—a mechanism that the White House and Democrats have both made clear they will never accept. But the terms the Gang of Eight did accede to—the ones McCain and Schumer lambasted as wasteful, unnecessary, and ineffective as recently as last week—give credibility to the ridiculous notions about the border’s security that the Gang of Eight resisted from the very beginning of their negotiations. The bill, after all, passed out of the Judiciary Committee, with bipartisan support, without adding a single border agent. Instead, it committed federal personnel to the places where they were actually needed, like 3,500 new agents for customs.
Yesterday, I wrote that while the border security deal was a breakthrough for expanding Republican support for the bill, its terms won’t entice the House to take the Senate’s immigration package seriously.
But the deal is a signal to the rest of the reform community. Schumer and his fellow Gang of Eight members have chosen to spare themselves the frenzy of scraping for a merely filibuster-proof majority at the cost of their first concession to one of the right’s crazier notions about immigration. It probably won’t produce a nuttier House debate on immigration—House Republicans don’t need the Senate’s go-ahead to embolden them. But for the door to be cracked open for fact-free policy making is a worrisome sign.
Molly Redden is a staff writer for The New Republic. Follow her on Twitter @mtredden.