NOGALES, Ariz. — A bipartisan group of senators crafting a sweeping immigration bill vowed Wednesday that they would be ready to unveil it when Congress reconvenes in less than two weeks after getting a firsthand look at a crucial component of their legislation: security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The four senators — Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado — are members of the so-called Gang of Eight, which is close to finalizing a bill aimed at securing the border and putting 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship
The lawmakers’ reassurance that their work would be complete by the week of April 8 came after a public feud erupted between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO over a low-skilled worker provision in the bill — a spat that remained alive Friday as Congress began a two-week recess. But Flake noted Wednesday that negotiations over the worker program had resumed; an AFL-CIO negotiator also confirmed the talks were back on.
During the tour, the senators saw border agents apprehend a woman who had climbed an 18-foot-tall bollard fence.
“You can read and you can study and you can talk, but until you see things it doesn’t become reality,” said Schumer, who toured the border for the first time. “I’ll be able to explain this to my colleagues. Many of my colleagues say, ‘Why do we need to do anything more on the border?’ and we do. We should do more.”
President Barack Obama has urged Congress to pass immigration reform this year. While ceding the details of the negotiations to Congress thus far, the president has stepped to the forefront of the debate this week to prod lawmakers to finish work on the bill.
Border security also is critical to McCain, and other Republicans, who contend that some areas along the border are far from secure.
The senators’ tour Wednesday — by both ground and air — allowed them to review manned and unmanned drones and different types of fences. They also watched as vehicles going to and from Mexico were scrutinized by border agents at the checkpoint in Nogales.
“In so many ways, whatever your views are on immigration, Arizona is ground zero,” Schumer said. “What I learned today is we have adequate manpower, but not adequate technology.”