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Gang of 8 senators: Immigration deal requires secured border
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Gang of 8 senators: Immigration deal requires secured border

'We're not going to legislate (metrics) here in front of you guys'

  • McCain speaks to reporters after a border tour, with Schumer, Bennet and Flake.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comMcCain speaks to reporters after a border tour, with Schumer, Bennet and Flake.
  • McCain speaks to reporters after a border tour, with Schumer, Bennet and Flake.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comMcCain speaks to reporters after a border tour, with Schumer, Bennet and Flake.
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

The crux at the heart of immigration reform remains the security of the U.S.-Mexico border. Four U.S. senators, members of the "Gang of Eight" that are working on an immigration reform bill, toured the border Wednesday along with officials from Customs and Border Patrol

The bipartisan group said that an immigration deal requires a secured border with high-tech enforcement, but didn't offer any indications on how border security might be measured.

The quartet — Arizona's GOP Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, along with Democrats Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) — toured the border by helicopter, stopping at least once to get a closer look at the border fence, and visited a port of entry.

During a press conference at the Santa Cruz County Complex in Nogales, Schumer called the border region vast.

"There are surprising variation in the kinds of terrain out there," he said. "Being from New York, I've never been out here, so it was something we needed to see."

McCain said that he organized the tour to show his colleagues the progress and problems along the border

"In the last several years, we have made improvements on the border," McCain said. "The border is still not, in many ways, as secure as we want it to be, or that we expect it to be."

McCain pressed for new technology along the border and Schumer agreed, saying "We have adequate manpower but not adequate technology."

During the tour, McCain tweeted that just a few yards from where they were standing a woman climbed the 18-foot bollard fence in Nogales. The woman was apparently apprehended.

Flake also spoke about the need for secure border, "but one that is also open to commerce between Mexico and the U.S."

Though the senators spoke about the need to secure the border, they declined to give specifics to reporters about what metrics would be used to assess enforcement.

According to Schumer, the forthcoming immigration reform bill will include specific metrics to gauge border security, but "We're not going to legislate this here in front of you guys," he said.

While the cost of new technology remains an open question, sequestration loomed over current border operations according to McCain. The budget cuts, he said, have "made our border is less secure."

"We'll be doing whatever we can to restore that funding and adding the funding that would be required to give us the border that we can then have confidence in," he said.

Bennet noted "Not everybody is going to get everything they want in this bill, not one person is running this by themselves."

"But if we can get the kind of bipartisan cooperation that's been demonstrated by the negotiators in this group of eight, I think we can be successful and I think we can fix a lot of the issues that ail us," the Colorado senator said.

According to Schumer, the bill will be submitted when the Senate reconvenes from recess in April, giving time for the remaining Senators, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) time to hash out the remaining parts of the bill.

Though questions still remain, Schumer seemed confident in the bill's potential.

"The American people are generous, but they need to see that there's not going to be wave of people before they'll agree to reform" said Schumer. "We need to control the flow of people before we can bring people out of the shadows."

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