What follows is based on press reports of the content of the Corker-Hoeven amendment, and we learned in 2007 that the fine print matters –a lot. (Remember Z Visas?) But if the small print matches the large promises, this amendment would yield a Senate bill that I could applaud, recognizing that it represents the base on which the House would build, not the final product.
The plus-up in the Border Patrol is fine, but no substitute for the fence. I look to my friend, columnist and long-time Army officer Kurt Schlichter to confirm that if we are about to hire 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, an absolute preference for returning combat veterans should be part of the bill, for these men and women leaving the downsized Army and Marine Corps will have a basic skills set necessary to train for this difficult and often dangerous work. That preference should be part of the law.
Other small details will matter, such as rewards for schools impacted by the newly regularized, the sort of assistance that really matters to kids –infrastructure dollars to build sports facilities, for example, and for the salaries of the men and women who coach those teams. Sport is the greatest assimilation energizer, and too many of these impacted districts cut athletics and keep HQ staff. If we want the newly regularized to join the American mainstream, put them on the fields, courts and pools of competition and the process is begun. Study as well the example of the UNO system in Chicago, written about most recently by David Feith of the Wall Street Journal and AEI, and the Great Hearts Academies in Arizona (full disclosure, I am a board member of this public choice school system.) If the GOP is on its toes in the House, it will work hardest on the education provisions of the bill the Senate sends over, marking for itself the task of making sure that newly regularized Americans on a path to eventual citizenship get the tools of that citizenship.
But all of this and other improvements possible by the House efforts is contingent on the Corker-Hoeven language concerning the fence. (The billions for border security technology is great, but it isn’t the good, old-fashioned bricks-and-mortar fence and shouldn’t be confused with it at all in the language.) As noted below, if Americans cannot see and measure the fence, it doesn’t exist, and a promise of a fence isn’t a fence and shouldn’t be a trigger. 700 miles is the magic number put forward in the Corker-Hoeven amendment, but that was the magic number in the 2006 bill, of which only 36 miles were built. Democrats are agreeing to the fence so the language assuring its prompt and complete construction should be very, very specific, and the details of its design and location –no more traffic barriers easily moved counting as fence– spelled out. This is very easy to do, and the quickest way to wreck the bill will be to try and cheat on these provisions, but Senator Rubio is committed to the fence –to the double-sided, high and long and strong fence– and he knows many of his critics will be looking for a reason to reject his efforts as inadequate. I am guessing they will be adequate, though the trigger will be green cards, not regularization, a concession to Democrats but also not a huge one for the GOP.
When the House gets the fence it should make it longer, stronger, and its location more specific still. It should add the provisions concerning the new Border Patrol and the impacted schools. (School choice for impacted districts might also make an appearance in the House bill, as should the wholly unrelated but politically-impossible to reject by senate Democrats’ repeal of the medical device tax, which Senate democrats voted in favor of 79-21 in March. A little log-rolling, please, Mr. Speaker.)
Corker-Hoeven may have averted a train wreck. Senators Schumer, McCain and Graham may have seen that the only way to get the regularization they want is to give the border fence the voters demand, whether or not they want it or even believe in it. (Senator McCain does believe in it, I like to remind people, he campaigned in 2010 on the slogan to “Finish the dang fence!”)
Anti-regularization forces will automatically say the amendment is not enough, that it is window-dressing. I was prepared to do the same yesterday when early reports suggested it was only a border patrol press release and not a fence guarantee. If the fence isn’t there or is ambiguous in its design or construction schedule, I’ll be back in the “Kill the bill” camp.
But for now it seems as though the Senate has successfully completed step one of immigration reform. It may be one step forward and two steps back when we see the actual language, but for the time being, hope that the GOP got one right, and if it did, thank Marco Rubio.
One last thought: If a commission is needed to certify anything, name the names of commission in the bill and spell out their duties. Pick people who bring credibility to the table and avoid confirmation battles and gamesmanship down the road. Spell. It. Out. If the majority and minority in both houses get two each, fine, let’s have the eight names and their alternates as well. Nothing to chance, no chance for nothing.
Trust but verify, as the Gipper used to say. The Congress promised 700 miles of fence seven years ago. That’s what the American people should keep in mind as the bill clears its first hurdle. That and the absolute need for real, lasting border security, the sort that cannot be turned off or redeployed –the fence.