Senate immigration bill includes major security measures
WASHINGTON—A major security-focused amendment to the Senate immigration bill, proposed by a pair of Senators one day before the legislation passed 68-32, might have played a critical role in making the overhaul more palatable to several more Senate Republicans.
Proposed by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., the amendment package would devote more than $40 billion over the next ten years to bolstering security and ramping up enforcement on the nation’s southern border. Provisions of S. 744—the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act—include adding 700 miles of fencing and employing 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, according to news reports.
Marcus Dunn, director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, says it’s unsurprising that some kind of bipartisan agreement can form around security provisions, even in a Senate as politically polarized as the current one. The security debate has the advantage of being anchored more in technical waters than ideological, unlike the more politically divisive aspects of immigration reform, such as those dealing with paths to citizenship and legalization.
“We do not have the emotional piece of the immigration discussion,” Dunn told Security Systems News. “Technology either does what it’s supposed to do or it doesn’t. We’re the solution provider, if you want to do this in an organized, black-and-white, blind justice kind of way.”
The spirit of bipartisan cooperation that defined the Senate vote may not translate so well to the House, where political rifts are even more pronounced. House Speaker John Boehner has reiterated in no uncertain terms that the House plans to do its own immigration bill.
While a House bill may be assembled in more of a piecemeal fashion, Dunn said, certain security-related proposals, such as a provision for biometrics cards, are likely to be part of the legislation because they will appeal to lawmakers in both parties—at least among the more moderate ranks.
“I think they over-think it,” Dunn said, referring to the lawmakers on the political fringes of both parties, who tend to be more wary of the privacy implications for biometrics. “Biometrics could just be a photograph. It could also be a fingerprint, iris scan or blood type, but that’s a bit more in-depth.”
A privacy framework designed by the SIA may help allay some of these concerns. If that framework is not a part of House legislation, the association will advocate for its inclusion, according to Dunn, who expects opposition to biometrics to be limited, since they are consistent with the push for stronger border security, something lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support.
Dunn added that another cause for optimism, from an industry standpoint, is that both the House and Senate seem to be aware that biometrics could be among the technical solutions to some of the problems plaguing border security.
“If we’re really trying to find out who a person is, [biometric verification] is difficult to thwart,” Dunn said. “It’s not going to be as common as someone lifting an ID card.”
An interesting point about the Senate’s mammoth, decade-long border security proposal is that, from a research and development standpoint, it may help usher in the next wave of security technology. With $40 billion in the pipeline, the industry may see better video analytics, improved energy efficiency, higher video quality and systems with more powerful data crunching capabilities, according to Dunn, who likened the Senate bill’s border proposals to America’s Cold War era investment in the space program.
“I would hope it might take the industry to the next generation of development, with more futuristic thinking,” Dunn said. “I’m sure they’ve got harsh environments [on the southern border], and there’s equipment in those areas, but now we may be talking about a lot more of it.”
If security provisions of a similar scope and scale are included in a House bill, Dunn said the industry will face new challenges, but that he’s “fully confident the industry can meet them.”