Border Security First

Conservatives propose shoring up border defenses before amnesty

Arizona border / AP
May 22, 2013

A group of Republicans expressed cautious optimism during a panel Wednesday that a developing House immigration proposal will win the support of conservative members.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R., Idaho), who has been in talks with members of both parties about an immigration proposal, spoke at a Heritage Foundation-organized event about the prospects of the plan.

"Most Republicans are for immigration reform as long as we have border security that works and the American people aren’t stuck with the bill," Labrador said.

The Senate’s immigration bill, titled "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Some Republicans have criticized what they view as a legalization first, border security later scheme.

Under the proposal, the Department of Homeland Security must develop a border security plan, including the use of drones, agents, and fencing, within six months of enacting the bill. Once the plan is in place, illegal immigrants can seek provisional legal status.

The Senate committee rejected an amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) that would have only permitted the legalization of immigrants after control of the U.S. border with Mexico had been established for six months.

The House Judiciary Committee also discussed the Senate bill Wednesday, with members raising concerns that it would be too lax on enforcement and comparing it to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Labrador said any House proposal would include tougher border security measures and triggers before legalization could take place.

Labrador said House members planned on unveiling an immigration proposal at the beginning of June, but that depends on "whether Democrats will put Hispanic groups ahead of labor unions and Obamacare."

Unions affiliated with Democrats are opposed to the potential for more low-skilled workers to be allowed into the United States, while Republicans are concerned about the long-term costs of more immigrants using healthcare services.

Even if House members backing the proposal are able to address varied concerns about border security and cost, Labrador admitted that passage of a House bill might be an uphill struggle.

"I think the opposition is still going to be pretty vocal," he said.

"But I think you can see in this meeting when we have conservatives talking about immigration reform that we’re all trying to get to yes. But we’re not going to do that by compromising our principles."

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.) cited a recent report by the Heritage Foundation that found legalized immigrants would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits but pay $3.1 trillion in taxes as a concern for many House Republicans.

"We have to take a look at the welfare issue and make certain it’s not going to cost us," he said.

Republicans on the panel also discussed their terms for raising the debt ceiling. An analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center last month found that the government would not reach its borrowing limit until later than previously thought, likely in early September or October.

Several Republicans said they would not vote to raise the debt limit absent a plan that includes reforms to entitlement programs, such as granting more flexibility to state Medicaid spending and tying Social Security benefits more closely to inflation.

"Mandatory spending has to be the core of any package on the debt ceiling," Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.) said.

Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.) added that a debt ceiling package should include measures aimed at balancing the federal budget in 10 years.

"We still have no budget and every member of Congress has been paid," he said.