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Immigration reform: Two Senate bill authors see pathway to ... passage

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Senator Cornyn’s amendment, introduced Wednesday, would require the US to meet certain conditions before illegal immigrants could pursue permanent residency. They include constant observation of the 2,000-mile southern border (including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in some form or fashion 24 hours a day, seven days a week) and apprehension of 90 percent of potential border-crossers. It also would mandate nationwide implementation of workplace employment verification software known as E-Verify, as well as biometric identification systems in all the nation’s seaports and international airports.

That matches much of the existing bill, which requires the same rate of apprehensions, uses a similar definition of border surveillance, and carries the same broad implementation of E-Verify. But the language of the current Senate bill is less specific about border surveillance requirements, and it would mandate only that passports be screened, not irises and fingerprints, at airports and seaports.

Senator Flake cautioned that Cornyn’s amendment would need to be changed to draw support from Democrats. Cornyn, he added, has shown good faith in saying that if a version of the amendment is adopted he will vote for the bill – a move that would bring the second-ranking Senate Republican and a tough immigration-reform critic into the "yes" column.

Still, the biometric entry and exit systems that conservatives want, as a way to help track people who overstay their visas, may be a part of the Senate bill that could be stiffened. An estimated 40 percent of the undocumented population entered the US legally but stayed longer than allowed.

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