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The Cornyn Amendment: Will It Include The Fence? Will It Pass?

Friday, June 14, 2013  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

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I interrupt this vacation to focus attention on the interview my guest host Ed Morrissey had with Senator Marco Rubio yesterday (transcript here) and on the looming, crucial vote on the “Cornyn amendment.”

Bottom line: Next week is the week we see if real immigration reform is going to pass the Congress –not the Senate, but the whole Congress– because next week looks like the week the amendment on border security being offered by Senator John Cornyn gets its vote.  That is what Senator Rubio seemed to be saying –that next week would bring the border security debate to its conclusion, good or bad.  The Cornyn amendment is the vehicle by which the reality of the commitment to border security gets tested for the conservatives who are willing to support immigration reform but only if it carries with it real and lasting, guaranteed border security.

Senator Cornyn is the #2 ranking Republican senator, a relaible, thoughtful conservative, and a border state senator.  His amendment will be serious, but because its language hasn’t been released, I can’t say if it will be serious enough for folks like me who think the border fence is the key to real border security, for all the reasons detailed below and frequently on this site over the past many months.

Assume that the Cornyn amendment mandates construction of many hundreds of miles of new, double sided-fencing –I think it should stretch at least half the border or more than 1,000 miles– and provides the money and the impossible-to-avoid mandate and authorizations trumping conflicting statutes such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and NEPA, what then?  The trigger linking the completion of construction of X miles of new fence with the beginning of the green card process (not legalization, which will be complete upon Congressional passage of the bill, but the permanent residence status) would be the next issue for scrutiny along with the mandate on biometrics on entry and exit at ports.  There are thus three or four key aspects to the Cornyn amendment which will be scrutinized, and the promises of 100% operational control or 90% capture rates matter not at all.  That language is mostly window dressing for the MSM.  What matters are the tangible, mandated efforts and means, and chief among them the very real, very effective deterrent of double-sided fencing.

If the fence is there and the mandate real –not the mere reference to the 2006 law but impossible-to-escape mandated construction language– then the Cornyn amendment may pass because the Democrats will realize that the Cornyn amendment is really a test vote for where the House will come down on immigration reform.  If a “tough enough” Cornyn amendment fails, the dying of the big bill may take a long time, but the bell will be tolling for passage of immigration reform inthis Congress.  Conseravtives don’t need much out of this process, but they do need a fence.  A real one.  A long one.  A built one.  If the amendment doesn’t deliver the fence, the House won’t be passing it.  If the amendment does deliver the fence, Democrats and the pass-anything Republicans will face a choice of whether they really and truly want immigration reform.

So Senator Cornyn thus has to get the amendment tough enough and specific to attract national security conservatives willing to go a long way on all other issues to get the border secured.  His office’s press release last week was not reassuring, and the coverage of the amendment in The Hill and Roll Call has been very vague on the fence, which is odd since that is the only metric that matters to most outside-the-Beltway Republicans.  (Senator McCain, of course, campaigned for his Senate re-election on the prmise to “Finish the dang fence” so he knows the improtance of the border barrier.)

I hope Senator Cornyn posts a complete text of his amendment with enough time for conservatives to read and analyze it before the voting begins.  We don’t need a replay of “you have to read the bill to find out what is in it” from the 2010 Obamacare debate.  Any cross references to previous law liek the 2006 fence bill should be spelled out and the interaction between the old and the new language detailed.  In other words, the Senate should realize that this is the most crucial vote they will take this session and that the public is very, very interested in the details and deserves to be taken seriously in that interest.  If nothing else, senators facing re-election in 2014 and 2016 should want to know what conseravtives are saying about the Cornyn amendment before they vote on it, not object later that they thought it enjoyed conservative support when in fact it didn’t.

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