Congressional negotiators say immigration reform will need a border security 'trigger' to pass. But agreeing on what counts as 'border security' won't be easy, and could determine whether reform happens.
Immigration reformers want to bring the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. Border security hawks want assurances that if they go along with that plan, they won’t be back in 10 years deciding whether or not to legalize 10 million more.
What’s Congress to do?
Figure out a “trigger,” where advances in border security are deemed sufficient to trigger the beginning of the journey to citizenship for the undocumented already in the country.
As immigration reform negotiations continue, determining just what counts as a “secure border” and how to link that to plans for the undocumented will be crucial. Indeed, finding an answer could determine whether a bipartisan immigration reform measure reaches President Obama’s desk or if 2013 is yet another disappointment for reformers.
Historically, those on Capitol Hill have tried to craft a delicate balance between border security and a path to legal status for the undocumented. For example, the comprehensive immigration reform legislation of the George W. Bush years, which ultimately failed, had a series of triggers. In 2009, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York proposed more broadly that “operational control” of the border “must be achieved within a year of enactment of legislation.”
But those triggers aren't helpful anymore. Most of the benchmarks for border security established in 2007, for example, have been met today, according to an analysis by the pro-reform advocacy group America’s Voice.