Sen. John Cornyn’s immigration amendment has turned into a flashpoint. So what’s in it?

June 13, 2013

Senators spent part of Wednesday afternoon quarreling over plans to begin voting on amendments to the bipartisan immigration reform bill, but failed to reach an agreement on  how to proceed. Democrats hope to begin holding votes Thursday, but might have to punt those plans into next week.


Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

One of the most notable amendments in the mix is authored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) that several Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), have said must be added to the immigration bill in order to earn their support.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democrats consider Cornyn’s proposal a “poison pill” amendment that would kill the overall immigration bill because they believe his plan would make it virtually impossible for any eligible illegal immigrant to apply for a green card.

Cornyn calls his amendment the RESULTS Act, which is short for "Requiring Enforcement, Security and safety, & Upgrading Legitimate Trade and travel Simultaneously." (It just rolls off the tongue, eh?). The amendment stipulates that no illegal immigrant could apply for green card status until the Department of Homeland Security and Government Accountability Office jointly certify that the following requirements have been achieved:

-- That there is "100% situational awareness" along the border, meaning that the U.S. Border Patrol has "monitoring capability at every segment" of the roughly 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

-- That there is "Full Operational Control" along the border, meaning that border agents are maintaining "at least 90% apprehension rate" along the U.S.-Mexico border.

-- That a biometric exit system that allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection to track immigrants leaving the U.S. be in place at all U.S. international airports and seaports. Current policy on tracking biometrics at land crossings would be maintained.

-- That the national E-Verify System, which employers must use to track a job applicant's immigration status, would need to be fully operational. (This part of Cornyn's proposal matches what's already in the immigration bill.)

There are several other details within the Cornyn amendment, including funding to hire another 10,000 Border Patrol and Customs officers over the next decade and requirements that DHS establish a new "Southern Border Strategy" within 120 days of the bill's final passage.

Cornyn said Wednesday that without the provisions included in his amendment, a Senate-passed immigration bill "will be dead on arrival in the House of Representatives.

"My amendment is essential to moving this legislation forward and to getting an outcome that ultimately will end up on the president's desk," Cornyn said.

But the two most prominent members of the "Gang of Eight" responded by blasting Cornyn's proposal.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that adding so many new border personnel would cause the bill's overall price tag to jump by as much as $25 billion. Worse, Schumer suggested that Cornyn's plan would mean that immigrants would have to wait much longer for legal status.

“We cannot, should not and will not tell those who have waited in the shadows for so long that they should wait for 25 years,” Schumer said. “That is unacceptable."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) admitted Wednesday that the U.S.-Mexico border isn't sufficiently secured, but that the bill he helped write would help improve protection. He urged Cornyn to reconsider his proposal.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another member of the "Gang of Eight," wouldn't label Cornyn's amendment a "poison pill," but told reporters at a breakfast hosted Wednesday by the Christian Science Monitor that he doesn't expect Cornyn's proposal to be adopted as written.

What do you think about Cornyn's proposals? The comments section awaits your thoughts.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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