By Mike Lillis - 06/28/13 07:50 PM EDT
A House Republican negotiating a comprehensive immigration reform deal warned Friday that full border security is impossible.
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said the Southern border is simply too wild for law enforcers to plug all the gaps in the fight against illegal immigration.
“Anybody that thinks you can totally secure the Southern border has never been to the Southern border,” Carter said. “I've been down there all my life, and I'm telling you, you can have a 40-foot wall and put machine guns on it, and you can't secure the Southern border. There's too much wild country.
Carter's comments are a rebuke to conservatives in both chambers demanding that the border be essentially airtight before other provisions of immigration reform – notably the legalization of those living in the country illegally – kick in.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) had offered an amendment to the upper chamber's immigration bill that would have required 100 percent border surveillance and a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal entrants along the Southern border before granting permanent legal status to millions of immigrants already living in the country.
The package that passed the Senate on Thursday includes those measures as goals, but does not require the Department of Homeland Security to meet them before granting residency benefits.
“The difference between my amendment and their bill is that their bill promises the sun and the moon when it comes to border security but it has no trigger mechanism,” Cornyn warned before his amendment was voted down.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had floated an even tougher proposal, which would have required 100 percent surveillance and a 95 percent apprehension rate before the residency benefits kicked in.
Carter said the comprehensive reform bill he's been working on with six other House lawmakers — four Democrats and two Republicans — includes “certain triggers” that “have to be met” before the other provisions take effect.
“Border security triggers the rest of the bill,” Carter said.
He declined, however, to provide any details.
“Certain triggers have to be met is all I'm going to say,” he said. “You'll see. We're almost there.”
Carter said the House bill will offer five-year work visas, and when those expire “you can get another one if you want one” — a contrast, he noted, to the Senate bill.
“Their work permit guarantees that there will be a green card,” he said. “Ours is different,” offering the possibility of green cards “after 10 years.”
He was also quick to contrast the House and Senate bills as they address citizenship. The Senate bill carves out special rules for those already living in the United States, he said, whereas the House bill deals with “everyone who is in the immigration process.”
“Our bill creates no new pathway to citizenship,” he said.
That distinction is meant to appease conservatives who say any special treatment afforded those in the country illegally would represent “amnesty” for lawbreakers.
Thursday’s passage of the Senate bill has provided a good deal of momentum to comprehensive immigration reform as it heads over to the House. But Carter was quick to rule out the possibility that GOP leaders might bring that bill to the House floor.
“They've just left too many gaps there, too many things that people are upset about,” he said of the Senate version.
“I think there's a real will in the majority of the [Republican] Conference — but not everybody — to try to get something done, but it's got to have some certain parameters that are very important to it, and I don't think the Senate bill meets [them].”
House negotiators have finished writing a preliminary draft of their immigration bill, but it has yet to be released. While the Democrats have signed off on it, the Republicans have not.
Citing the tedious nature of the legislative text, Carter said he's still reviewing the language, but remains hopeful the group can release the package early next month.
“We expect ... to be finished after this July [Fourth] break,” he said. “Our staffs [are] going to work on it over July break.”