US lawmakers reach key accord on border security
US senators on Thursday agreed to double the number of police patrolling the border with Mexico, a key compromise which paves the way for the successful passage of landmark immigration reform.
The reforms under debate would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, reduce unlawful entries and revise guest worker programs for agriculture and high-tech industries.
Immigration is a priority for President Barack Obama's second term but the overhaul had been put in jeopardy after Republicans demanded tougher border security as a precondition to curb future arrivals of undocumented migrants.
Thursday's agreement, which came in the form of an amendment expected to pass with ease, establishes five criteria before any permanent regularization of undocumented migrants.
The most expensive change provides for the hiring of an additional 20,000 police officers to monitor the border with Mexico to supplement the 20,000 officers already in place on the frontier.
The amendment also ordered the construction of approximately 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) of new fencing on the border, in addition to the 1,500-kilometer barrier already erected.
The agency responsible for policing the border will meanwhile receive additional funding of $3.2 billion to acquire drones and other technology such as infrared cameras and motion detectors.
"It would be difficult to create a stronger border security. I don't know how you could do that," Republican Bob Corker said at a press conference.
"Some people have described this as a border surge, and the fact is we are investing resources in the border that have never been invested before," he said earlier on the floor of the Senate.
Republican Senator John Hoeven described the amendment as a "very straightforward way to secure the border and to do so before allowing a pathway to legal permanent residency for those who came here illegally."
"Our legislation will provide significantly more resources to secure the border: more manpower, more fencing, more technology.
"And those resources must be fully deployed and operational before green card status is allowed," he said.
If the Senate passes the legislation next week the House of Representatives could then vote on its own version by the end of July. Both versions must then be reconciled, which could take several months.