The federal government also would need to complete construction of about 700 miles of fencing along the western sector of the border, essentially forcing compliance with immigration laws passed in 1996 and 2006 that authorized fence construction.
Changes in the E-Verify program that employers must use to verify a job applicant’s immigration status would need to be in place, and a biometric scanning system to catch immigrants who overstay visas would need to be operational at the nation’s largest international airports.
The agreement also authorizes the use of $3.2 billion in new border-tracking technology, including radars, scanners and at least 18 unarmed aerial drones.
“I tell you what, if you’re worried about drones, you lost big here,” Graham quipped Thursday. “If you like drones, your ship came in.”
Members of the bipartisan group that drafted the bill once considered the $30 billion price tag for new border agents too high. But aides said their concession to supply the funds was made possible by this week’s Congressional Budget Office report that estimated that the legislation would reduce federal deficits by nearly $200 billion over the next decade.
“We didn’t know we had the dollars; we have them now,” Schumer said.
The additional funding did not make everyone happy. A group of conservative senators, including Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), called the new border security deal a weak and costly attempt to stop illegal immigration.
“This is going to repeat a couple of mistakes that too often in Washington we make,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a leading critic. “Too often success in Washington is measured by input — how much money you’re going to spend — while we ought to be measuring success of legislation by results and the outcomes.”
“This is turning out to be 1986 all over again,” Grassley warned, referring to an immigration bill signed that year by President Ronald Reagan that members of both parties believe failed to sufficiently address the issue.
McCain dismissed the criticism, saying, “If they can’t accept these provisions, then border security is not their problem.”
Aaron Blake contributed to this report.