Passing immigration reform is possible only if the U.S. House of Representatives can compromise as the U.S. Senate did, say Arizona's two border congressmen.
Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ron Barber, both Democrats whose districts run the span of the state's border with Mexico, said in interviews for the Friday Arizona Week broadcast that they see hope for legislation in the House. But both said it will be a challenge to get a bill through the Republican-controlled chamber.
The Senate passed a bipartisan-crafted bill last week in a 68-32 vote. It includes $46.3 billion for border security, a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million now in the United States illegally and new visa programs for high-skilled, low-skilled and agricultural workers.
“I’m very pleased that we have a bipartisan approach to this long-standing problem," Barber said. "We really need to fix the broken immigration system in this country, and I think the majority of Americans feel it is time for that.”
Grijalva agreed and said that he and other Democrats, who are opposed to the border security buildup that is part of the legislation, need to recognize that compromise is the only way to passage.
"Democrats who are going to vote (against) it, just because of the enforcement, also have to understand that there’s a pathway that is the tradeoff," Grijalva said. "And they have to accept that as well.”
The original bill from the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Eight" had $7 billion for border security. Floor amendments raised that to $46.3 billion, and Grijalva said he is worried that is a step toward what he called "militarization" of the border.
"Many of us, and I include myself, see it as overkill," Grijalva said. "We see it as excessive and potentially a problem for the eventual passage of something that we all want, which is comprehensive immigration reform. ... Many of us have tolerated much of this enforcement in an effort to get the pathway (to citizenship)."
Barber said he places the border security measures high on his priority list because his borderland constituents don't now feel safe. Drug cartels moving their goods from Mexico into the United States are the main issue, he said.
"First of all, (the legislation) has to be good for border security," Barber said. "I still have areas in my district that are not safe, where my constituents live in fear of their lives, quite frankly. We need to deal with that. While we've made progress with border security, we need more."
In the Senate bill, that "more" includes doubling the size of the Border Patrol, to 38,400 officers, by 2021 at a cost of $30 billion; building another 700 miles of fencing, including double-layered fencing, with a cost of $8 billion; and adding watch towers, underground sensors, unmanned aircraft and other technical devices, for another $4.5 billion, to allow detection of illegal crossings.
House hearings on immigration legislation could begin as early as next week.