Members of the U.S. Senate approved an amendment Monday geared at strengthening security along the nation's southern border, clearing a path for a final vote on an immigration reform package in the coming days.
The amendment, written by Sens. Bob Corker and John Hoeven, R-N.D., was passed in a 67-27 vote. Both Corker and Sen. Lamar Alexander were among the 15 Republicans who voted in favor of the legislation.
Some senators did not vote, citing flight delays.
The proposal, drafted in conjunction with the bipartisan Gang of Eight, would require 20,000 patrol agents be added at the U.S.-Mexico border. It would also add 350 miles of fencing, purchase $4.5 billion in high-tech equipment for implementing protection strategies and mandate that employers make hires using an e-verify system, among other provisions included in the bill.
Monday's passage marks a key hurdle as Congress considers overhauling immigration policy. If a final version of the bill passes the Senate later this week, the legislation would then be sent to the House for consideration.
Issuing a statement following the vote, Corker said he was hopeful the amendment would help ensure eventual passage of a broader bill. The senator and former Chattanooga mayor conceded there was room for improvement in aspects of the final legislation as written.
"This vote provides strong bipartisan support for an amendment that unquestionably strengthens border security and moves us toward solving the immigration problem that we have struggled with for decades," Corker said. "There are certainly provisions in the underlying bill that can be improved, but it is my hope that tonight's overwhelming vote will lead to the passage of a strong bipartisan bill out of the Senate later this week."
A vote on the final immigration bill is scheduled for Friday, although it could happen as soon as Thursday, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Despite needing only 60 votes to pass, supporters of the bill are hoping to garner 70 votes to send it to the House with momentum.
In a news release, Alexander said he supported the Corker-Hoeven amendment because of its goals for strengthening border security, his "No. 1" issue regarding immigration policy. The senator did not go so far as to say if he would be supporting the final version of the bill.
"It is the constitutional responsibility of the president and Congress to write the rules for a legal immigration system and to enforce them," Alexander said in a news release. "As this legislation reaches its final form, I will be examining it closely to determine whether it creates an effective immigration system that respects the rule of law. My goals will remain securing our border, ending de facto amnesty and creating a legal immigration system."
Costs for provisions called for in the Corker-Hoeven amendment are projected at an estimated $38 billion, bringing the total amount of funds in the bill being directed toward border security to $46 billion. The senators have argued that costs for the amendment would be offset by $197 billion in spending cuts that would be able to take place over the next decade, a figure similar to numbers recently projected by the Congressional Budget Office.
On Monday, the CBO issued a report on the Corker-Hoeven amendment, stating its expectation that the legislation would "reduce the net flow" of undocumented immigrants to the U.S. and not have an impact on legal immigration or legalization of unauthorized immigrants.