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What Does the Border Security Bill Mean for Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

Last night, the Senate, by unanimous consent, passed a bill approving $600 million in emergency funding to increase security along the U.S.-Mexico border. After passing the bill, Democrats hinted they hope to see more cooperation with other reform efforts.

“I’m for comprehensive immigration reform,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill, said yesterday. “But we’ve always said we should do border security first. This is border security first.”

Republicans have repeatedly said they will not support comprehensive immigration reform measures until the border is secured. But don’t count on dramatic change from the border’s bill passage: advocates for immigrants rights and for tougher enforcement said they do not expect the debate on immigration to change significantly.

“You can make the argument that it can reinforce the Obama administration efforts to disentangle the border issues from the immigration issues, but that’s probably not how it’s going to play out,” Mary Giovagnoli, director of Immigration Policy Center, told TWI. “When you see actions like this at the end of a session, you can bet it’s more politics than policy that’s driving their decisions.”

Giovagnoli said she does not expect the bill to help the comprehensive immigration reform effort, but that it could help pave the way for senators who previously supported reform, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), to re-enter discussions.

But an enforcement advocate said the bill would “not going to have any effect” on support for other immigration reform measures, such as paths to citizenship for some of the illegal immigrants already living in the U.S.

“If that’s what [Democrat leaders] had in mind, they’re going to be disappointed,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies, told TWI. “The border hasn’t been secured, they just passed a piece of legislation. Until border control measures have been not only legislated but fully litigated, you can’t even start a discussion on legalization.”

Republican senators have not yet indicated whether the bill will change their minds on comprehensive reform legislation. (Spokesmen for Graham, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John McCain did not respond to requests for comment.) But a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid did not seem to expect the bill to change the stalemate over immigration reform. “I think they have made it pretty clear that they are not interested in dealing with immigration this year,” spokesman Jim Manley wrote.

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