Gang of Eight Heads to the Border, Sees Live Immigration Violation

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The Gang of Eight tours an Arizona parking lot. Photo: Ross D. Franklin

After weeks of being holed up in Washington, hard at work on the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill, on Wednesday half of the Gang of Eight took a tour of the Arizona-Mexico border. Ostensibly, the purpose of the trip was to allow Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake to give Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado their first look at how the border is currently secured — or not. "Just witnessed a woman successfully climb an 18-ft bollard fence a few yards from us," McCain tweeted, adding, "Border Patrol successfully apprehended her, but incident is another reminder that threats to our border security are real." Aside from seeing America's immigration problem in action, the field trip gave the senators a chance to assure everyone that they're making progress on the bill, though they're way past their early March deadline.

The senators tried to show that they're now in agreement on border security, though as Politico notes, that isn't what prevented the group from finishing the bill before Congress left for a two-week Easter recess. They dodged questions about the bigger issue, a dispute between the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce over visas for low-skilled workers, though talks between the two sides have resumed. McCain and Schumer were vague about what border control proposals will be in the bill, but they did say we need better technology, and it won't be cheap. “What I learned today is we have adequate manpower, but not adequate technology,” Schumer said. McCain said he wants to see “constant surveillance over the entire length of the border," adding, “We’re talking about a lot of money."

Issues like gun control, gay marriage, and various budget disasters have distracted from immigration reform, and President Obama was also trying to keep the momentum going on Wednesday. In interviews with Telemundo and Univision, Obama said he considers the dispute over guest workers a "resolvable issue," and kept his threats to release his own immigration bill mild, saying "I'm prepared to step in. But I don't think that's going to be necessary." The president said he's still "optimistic," adding, “If we have a bill introduced at the beginning of next month — as these senators indicate it will be — then I'm confident that we can get it done certainly before the end of the summer."

While speaking at the border, McCain warned, "Nobody is going to be totally happy with this legislation, no one will be because we have to make compromises." With no information available about the contents of the bill, lawmakers have started arguing over how long the Senate group has been working on it. While most of the complaints have been about the Gang of Eight moving too slow, now some say there should be more debate. “The massive proposal being cobbled together by a group of Senators in secret must be independently judged and reviewed by the Judiciary Committee in the full light of day,” said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions in a statement on Wednesday. “That will take months — not two weeks — and will require hearings on every aspect of this issue." Finishing up immigration reform by "the end of the summer" might be a stretch.