As the Senate's "gang of eight" fights to build a 70-vote consensus to pass sweeping immigration reform, many Republicans say the future of the bill hinges on bolstering border security.
"I am worried that the bill before us will not pass. It may not pass the Senate. It will not pass the House," warned Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., during a Senate Homeland Security hearing Tuesday. "If the border is not secure, we will be blamed for the next 10 million people who come here illegally."
The Senate's gang of eight -- a group of bipartisan lawmakers led by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. -- always anticipated a fight over border security. They even braced for it in their bill. The group's legislation would spend an additional $5.5 billion to secure the border, it would implement a program to require the Department of Homeland Security to increase surveillance along 100 percent of the border and ask DHS to develop a plan that would arrest 90 percent of those trying to enter the country illegally before the country's 11 million immigrants who came here illegally can apply for green cards.
The so-called "trigger" program was intended to sweeten the deal for the GOP to sign onto the immigration legislation, but Republicans are signalling they expect more in exchange for their vote.
"How did we decide that 90 percent was border security, when 10 percent is still not secure," says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. "A path to citizenship is in this bill based on the idea that the border is secure."
Others outside of the committee have also been vocal that the gang of eight's trigger plan lacks teeth. Many conservatives say that the legislation simply requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan, but does not require them to implement it before the country's immigrants who entered the country illegally can be put on a path to citizenship.
"The day the bill passes, there will be an effective amnesty for the vast majority of illegal immigrants—abandoning the Gang of Eight's public promise of enforcement first," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in a statement. "All that needs to occur to make this legal status official is for [DHS chief] Napolitano to submit to Congress, within six months of enactment, a mere 'fencing strategy' and a plan on how to achieve and maintain 'effective control.' "
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a chief architect of the the Senate's immigration bill, has signaled he is open to more stringent border security measures to help the landmark bill cross the finish line.
"Clearly what we have in there now is not good enough for too many people and so we've got to make it better," Rubio told the Sean Hannity radio program this week. "This bill will not pass the House and, quite frankly, I think, may struggle to pass the Senate if it doesn't deal with that issue."
Democrats argue, however, that GOP members must look beyond border security to fix the country's broken immigration system.
"We are still facing challenges. All too often, however, these challenges have deep roots in our own domestic policies and the socio-economic conditions of our neighbors," Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said during the hearing. "We need to focus on the underlying causes of illegal immigration and drug smuggling."
The Department of Homeland Security also emphasized during the hearing Tuesday that the agency is ready to implement the senate bill and is already seeing success in securing the border. Since 2006, when the border was in the worst shape it had been in decades, DHS said it has hired 9,000 border patrol agents, constructed more than 600 miles of new fencing and implemented more sophisticated cameras, sensors and radars along the border to stop illegal crossings. The agency boasted it has seen some of the lowest number of apprehensions in decades.