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GOP senators move to bolster border security, crack down on immigration

GOP senators move to bolster border security, crack down on immigration
© Keren Carrion

Republican senators want to invest billions to bolster border security and law enforcement along the southern border — a key concern of President Trump’s.

Sens. John CornynJohn CornynDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration GOP senators turning Trump immigration framework into legislation MORE (Texas), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA McConnell: Mueller needs 'no protection' from Trump Press: Congress must protect Mueller from Trump MORE (R-N.C.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoLobbying World GOP chairman: Republicans' reactions 'mixed' on gas tax increase Overnight Regulation: Dems go on attack during EPA chief's hearing | Mnuchin promises more Russia sanctions | Regulators subpoena major bitcoin exchange | New lawsuit over FDA e-cig rule MORE (R-Wyo.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson40 patient advocacy groups oppose 'right to try' drug bill GOP eyes changes to 'right to try' bill Hundreds sign on to letter opposing 'right to try' drug bill MORE (R-Wis.) rolled out legislation on Thursday that would bolster border security enforcement and crack down on illegal immigration.

It would also allocate $15 billion over four years for border security and law enforcement, though they would need to get their colleagues to agree to include that money in government funding bills later this year.

The legislation would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to use "multi-layered tactical infrastructure" along the southern border that include a wall, fencing, levees or technology. It would also allow for the hiring of more border security agents.

"I think infrastructure — wall systems — are an important piece of the story, but they're not the whole story," Cornyn told reporters, standing next to a poster of fencing along the border.

Pressed if this was Congress's answer to Trump's push to build a wall along the border with Mexico, Cornyn said infrastructure or a "wall" along the southern border isn't a "novel" idea.

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“The idea of physical infrastructure along the border is not a new concept,” he said. “President Trump didn’t dream that up.”

Trump’s push for a wall along the entire border with Mexico has stalled, and the president was dealt an embarrassing blow on Thursday when it was revealed that he pleaded with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to stop saying his country would not pay for it.

The Senate bill would target illegal immigration, including ending “catch and release,” a practice in which arrested undocumented immigrants are released while they wait for court cases to work their way through the system.

It also includes two controversial immigration proposals that could draw pushback from Democrats — and potentially some Republicans.

One provision would target federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities — jurisdictions that don't comply with federal immigration laws. The bill would also target visa overstays and toughen background checks for visas.

And it includes "Kate's Law," which would establish tougher penalties for undocumented immigrants who try to re-enter the country by establishing a five-year minimum sentence for undocumented immigrants who try to re-enter the country after being convicted of an aggravated felony, according to a Senate aide.

Senators in both parties have raised concerns about previous immigration bills that would have established similar mandatory minimum penalties.

“We have known for many years that turning a blind eye to our immigration laws has made our country less secure,” said Barrasso, who is a member of GOP leadership.

The legislation comes one day after Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonThis week: Trump delivers State of the Union amid immigration fight Ingraham: White House yanked immigration plan defense from show After shutdown surrender, why should progressives ever trust Chuck Schumer again? MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) re-introduced a bill that would curb legal immigration. The legislation, which faces an uphill battle in the Senate, got a White House rollout with President Trump.

But this week’s immigration-focused bills could pit Trump against some GOP senators who want broader reform and are skeptical of deep cuts to legal immigration. Leaders likely face a fight to get the 60 votes needed in the Senate, which would require the support of at least eight Democrats.

Cornyn signaled on Thursday that he thought Trump being in the White House would provide a boost of momentum for his measure, adding that he’s worked “closely” with the Department of Homeland Security on his bill.

“The one [thing] that’s been lacking, particularly in the last eight years, is the political will to do what we know we need to do,” he said. "[This is] really the culmination of not only months but really years of work.”

Trump put toughening border security and cracking down on immigration at the center of his presidential campaign, warning that immigrants were threatening American jobs.

He pledged repeatedly during his presidential campaign that he would build a wall along the southern border and make Mexico pay for it.

The House passed two bills targeting illegal immigration earlier this year and included $1.6 billion in funding for the wall in a fiscal 2018 government funding measure.

But Cornyn suggested that instead of just appropriating money for a border wall, lawmakers should focus on a large-scale plan for the southern border.

“We don’t know how that $1.6 billion fits into an overall plan for the overall southern border,” he told reporters. “Doing this on a piecemeal basis I think is really not the most efficient and most practical and most effective way to do it.”

“What we need is a plan first,” he added. “The funding should come following a plan, not the other way around.”