Several U.S. senators who are negotiating the final details of immigration reform legislation toured the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday to take a close look at some of the border security concerns.
Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake were joined by Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado during Wednesday’s trip to the border. All four of them are members of the ‘Gang of Eight,’ a bipartisan group of senators who have spent the last few months crafting an immigration reform bill.
McCain: Border security is key to immigration reform
Their trip comes during Congress’ two-week recess. The senators had hoped to introduce their immigration reform proposal when they returned from their two-week break, but it seems that several unresolved issues might push back their deadline.
During a town hall meeting on Monday, McCain said he hopes the trip will give the senators a firsthand look at the border and help finalize the immigration-reform negotiations.
“I wish every member of the United States Senate and Congress could see the border,” McCain told reporters after Monday’s event. “Only when you can see the expanse, the difficulties and the challenges of the border, can you really appreciate the need for our border security.”
He added, “It’s not just people who are coming across our border illegally to live here. It is the drug cartels that are smuggling billions of dollars of drugs into this country.”
Senators will find a secure border
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, noted Wednesday that the U.S. has already met or surpassed most border security benchmarks that the Senate came up with during immigration reform debates in 2007.
He had said that during their trip, the senators would find a border with increased Border Patrol staffing, better infrastructure and fewer people attempting to cross.
“We have made tremendous progress on border security, and it’s time to stop moving the goalposts,” Noorani said. “Our border will be stronger and even more secure once our immigration system is reformed.”
He added that he hopes the senators and their colleagues in Congress will come back from their two-week break “ready to push reform across the finish line.”
Senators should get a broad view of the border
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer took a similar tour of the southern border in February. After meeting with Border Patrol agents and ranchers living in border towns, she concluded that the border is not secure and called for additional resources to improve border security.
Immigrant rights groups criticized Brewer for meeting only with people, including ranchers and officers of the National Border Patrol Council, who share her views about border security. They argued that there are many border residents who feel secure because of the border enforcement that has been added in recent years.
Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller indicated Wednesday he hopes the senators won’t repeat what Brewer did during her tour of the border and instead meet with townspeople and rural residents in Southern Arizona who have different views of the border.
“It’s especially important to get broad points of view this year, when proposals for immigration reform are hinging on measures of border security,” he wrote in a column.