Sessions: Border security provisions in immigration bill weaker than in 2007

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the border-security requirements in legislation drafted by the Senate’s Gang of Eight appear weaker than those included in the 2007 immigration reform legislation that failed.

Sessions attended a briefing on the bill Monday evening by the Republican members of the Gang of Eight.

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“I’m not going to quote what they said in there but how the trigger works and the way it would be effected in some ways appears weaker than the one in 2007,” he said.

The Senate debated a comprehensive immigration reform bill for weeks in the late spring of 2007. It failed to muster enough votes to overcome a filibuster.

The legislation creates a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants who meet certain qualifications would be able to obtain green cards after a 10-year probationary period but could not receive the document until the federal government met criteria for securing the border.

A border fencing strategy would have to be substantially completed, a mandatory e-verify system would have to be set up to allow workers to check the legal status of applicants, and surveillance would have to be improved along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border that have high rates of illegal entry.

Sessions, a member of the Judiciary Committee, who has said he will delay the panel’s mark-up of the bill for at least one week, said that it is likely more than 11 million people will be put on the pathway to citizenship.

“I think people are very much uninformed about the numbers we’re talking about. It maybe 13 million or 14 million,” said he said.

Sessions said the backlog of family members of newly minted citizens eligible for immigration could be as high as 4 million or 5 million.

“They’ll be able to immediately apply for much better jobs than they currently have,” Sessions warned of illegal immigrants set to join the pathway to citizenship. “Maybe they were working at a restaurant part time. Now they’re going to be truck drivers, heavy-equipment operators competing at the factories and plants and we’ve got an unemployment rate that’s very high.”

The GOP members of the Gang of Eight described the legislation to colleagues in broad outlines Monday evening but did not share legislative text.

Many Republican senators are holding off on making a judgment about the legislation until they read its text.

“I think I got to read the bill before I’m going to comment,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), a rising star in the Republican Party who is considered a promising future presidential candidate, is working hard to sell the proposal to his colleagues and conservative voters.

“I’m continuing to communicate to people in multiple forms,” said Rubio.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Democratic leaders should be careful not to ram the legislation through the Senate.

“I’m going to do my best to create an environment in which this can succeed,” he said.

He said the bill would be more likely to succeed if the Judiciary Committee holds hearings on it and colleagues have ample opportunity to amend it on the Senate floor.

This story was updated on April 16 at 11:20 a.m.