Part III of CIR Blog Series: Border Security “Triggers”

This is the third and last part of our blog series on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). The first part of the series highlighted some changes to the asylum process set forth in the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744),which passed in the Senate by a vote of 68-32 last Thursday. The second part examined the pathways to citizenship that the bill would create. The following post will focus on the border security “triggers” mandated by S.744 and the Hoeven-Corker amendment, a recent and key addition to the bill.

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In our previous blog post on pathways to citizenship, we noted that under S.744, undocumented immigrants can only gain legal permanent resident status when certain border security measures have been implemented. These border security measures, known as “triggers,” include enhancing surveillance, enforcement and control along the border between the United States and Mexico. Under S.744, immigrants will have to wait until the border security goals set forth in the bill are met to obtain their green cards.

The Hoeven-Corker amendment, introduced by Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Bob Corker (R-TN), mandates an “unprecedented border surge”[1] and conditions legalization of immigrants on certain border performance criteria described below.

Specifically, under the final version of S.744 (including the Hoeven-Corker amendment), the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can only begin processing applications for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status after she has begun implementation of the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy and the Southern Border Fencing Strategy, which call for:

  • 100% surveillance of the southern border using $4.5 billion’s worth of technology and equipment, including drones;
  • The construction of at least 350 additional miles of pedestrian fencing for a total of 700 miles of fence (up from approx. 350 miles at the moment).

No RPI immigrant, with the exception of DREAMers, would be able to get a green card until all of the following conditions are satisfied:

10 years have passed since the enactment of S.744, AND

6 months have passed after the DHS Secretary verifies to Congress that:

  1. The two border strategies described above are deployed and their goals (100% surveillance, 350 additional miles of fencing) are attained;
  2. The mandatory E-Verify employment verification system is used by all employers in the United States to prevent unauthorized work;
  3. The mandatory electronic exit/entry system is implemented at every international air and sea port of entry in the U.S.; and
  4. An additional 19,200 Border Patrol agents are hired and deployed along the southern border, for a total of 38,405 agents (more than double the current number).

A logistical or bureaucratic delay in the implementation of any one of these criteria could push back indefinitely the date by which immigrants with RPI status would be eligible to apply for a green card. Even if these measures were implemented immediately, it would still take a minimum of 13 years for those on the RPI path to acquire citizenship.

Compared to the $8.3 billion allocated to border security in the original version of the bill, the Hoeven-Corker amendment mandates the spending of an additional $38 billion on border security. $30 billion would be used in order to hire the additional 19,200 Border Patrol agents and most of the rest would go towards the construction of the 350 miles of additional fencing along the border.[2]

Yet, the number of Border Patrol agents on the Southwest border today has already almost doubled since 2004[3] and reached an all-time high. Meanwhile, attempts to cross the border without proper documentation are at a historic low – Border Patrol apprehensions were lower in 2012 than at any point since 1970.

The increased militarization of the Southwest border, in the form of a massive security presence and constant drone surveillance, will also undoubtedly affect the well-being of border communities.

These strict border security provisions are seen by many as a necessary political compromise in the Senate, and it is likely that any immigration reform measures that emerge from the House will contain even more ambitious enforcement targets. President Obama has urged the House to follow the framework of the Senate bill and pass legislation before the August recess, but some advocates suggest that deliberations may continue through the fall.


[1] “Highlights of the Hoeven-Corker Amendment to the Immigration Bill.” http://www.corker.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/news?ID=9b091a42-f7e4-4751-a361-731db54d835d.

[3] Written testimony of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano for the Senate Judiciary Committee on S.744, April 23rd, 2013. http://www.dhs.gov/news/2013/04/23/written-testimony-dhs-secretary-janet-napolitano-senate-committee-judiciary-hearing.