After a series of private talks Wednesday night, a group of Senators announced Thursday that they had reached a bipartisan compromise to strengthen border security measures in the Senate’s immigration overhaul. The agreement, which is expected to push Senate support for the bill over 70 Senators, will require 20,000 new border patrol agents and the completion of 700 miles of fence along the southern border. Funding the patrol agents would cost $30 billion over ten years, and estimates show the fence could cost up to $6.5 million per mile.
The push for high-cost border security measures is surprising coming from Republicans who have stressed the importance of an immigration reform bill that lowers deficits and boosts the economy. The underlying Senate bill already has strong border security measures: It requires 100 percent “persistent surveillance” at the border with the goal of stopping at least 90 percent of illegal border crossings. It also creates a board dedicated to monitoring the progress of border security, and funds an additional 3,500 border agents by the end of 2013. On top of all of that, it sets up the most comprehensive entry and exit tracking system the country has ever seen, and E-Verify, an enforcement mechanism in and of itself, since it establishes a massive system to check the legal status of employees.
In reality, even without the Senate’s bill passing as-is, the border is more secure than ever before. In fact, it’s even more secure than the failed 2007 immigration reform effort would have required, with the last few years seeing huge increases in boots on the ground, mobile surveillance, air craft stations with manned- and unmanned-surveilance, and a total of 651 miles of fencing. Should the border security agreement come through and make its way into law, there would be far more agents at the border than there are troops stationed in Afghanistan.