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More agents, fencing may cut illegal immigration by half; Senate bill’s critics not satisfied

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Spending $35 billion on new Border Patrol agents and fencing would keep tens of thousands of new illegal immigrants from crossing the border each year, but would still only stop between a third and half of future illegal immigration, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest analysis released Wednesday.

The CBO looked at the latest version of the Senate’s immigration bill, which cleared the chamber in a 68-32 vote last week, and said it would reduce but not eliminate illegal immigration.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Immigration Reform

The “CBO estimates that the net inflow would be reduced by between one-third and one-half compared with the projected net inflow under current law. That effect would not be immediate, as it would take several years before [the Department of Homeland Security] could hire the full number of Border Patrol agents called for in the act,” the nonpartisan agency said in the section of its new analysis dealing with future illegal immigration.

The CBO also had continued good news about an immigration bill’s effects on the federal budget, saying that the additional legal workers will boost the economy and lead to nearly $1 trillion in new tax revenue over the next 20 years.

Wednesday’s analysis was an update to the CBO’s first crack last month at the Senate bill as it emerged from the Judiciary Committee.

That first analysis found the bill would only reduce future illegal immigration by about 25 percent, which comes to about 1.3 million people over the next decade. That still means about 4 million more illegal immigrants would get through.

The analysis, which takes into account the 20,000 additional Border Patrol agents and 350 miles of new pedestrian fencing that were added on the Senate floor, says those enhancements could stop an additional 800,000 or so illegal immigrants.

In order to win GOP votes on the Senate floor, the “Gang of Eight” senators who wrote the immigration bill accepted an amendment from Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota to add fencing and border agents, which will bring the total number of agents on the southwest border to more than 38,400.

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The additional security spending will cost $38 billion, the CBO said.

Security experts on all sides of the immigration debate have cast doubt on the efficacy of doubling the size of the Border Patrol, saying the return on investment is rather low.

But the bill’s authors said they are convinced illegal immigration can be stopped with more agents and fencing, coupled with technology on the border, a stricter entry-exit system to check visitors at airports and seaports, and a new electronic verification system to check workers’ legal status.

CBO has reaffirmed that immigration reform reduces the debt and grows the economy. It also shows that the Corker-Hoeven amendment further substantially reduces the flow of illegal immigrants, even using a methodology that underestimates how effective immigration reform will be in reducing that flow,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who is chief sponsor of the bill.

Opponents said a 50 percent drop in illegal immigration still isn’t enough.

The “CBO today confirmed that this bill falls far short of living up to its sponsors’ promises,” said Andrew Logan, spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican.

As for the federal deficit, the CBO said the additional border spending will hurt, but the additional taxes being paid by new workers and a stronger economy the bill would still improve federal finances by nearly $1 trillion over the next two decades.

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