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Kyle Potter , Published June 21 2013

Hoeven strikes compromise on immigration

WASHINGTON – North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven stepped into the immigration debate and onto the national scene this week with a proposal to beef up security at the U.S.-Mexico border while also giving immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

Talk show hosts and political pundits have called Hoeven’s amendment with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a compromise measure to try to win enough Republicans to pass immigration reform in the Senate and give the bill some momentum when it jumps over to the House.

The former North Dakota governor and first-term Republican senator stressed Friday that his amendment “puts border security first.”

Hoeven and Corker’s plan would double the amount of patrol agents at the border to about 40,000; provide funding to complete 700 miles of fencing along the border; and establish

$3.2 billion worth of sensors, radars and drones to keep watch. It also calls for electronic systems to help employers check to see that potential hires are in the country legally and stop foreign visitors from overstaying their visas.

“What you want is something that has broad-based support of the public and bipartisan support in Congress,” Hoeven said.

The larger bill – called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” – sets up a rigorous, 10-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. who entered the country illegally.

The process requires background checks, steady employment, paying back taxes and thousands of dollars in fees. It offers a faster track to citizenship for teens and young adults who have been in the country for at least 5 years.

The bill also aims to boost legal immigration of highly skilled workers and create a work program for visitors.

Local religious and business leaders gathered in Moorhead last week to call on Congress to pass the bill. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated in 2011 there were less than 10,000 immigrants of any nationality living in North Dakota who entered the country illegally.

Fellow North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Demo-crat, commended Hoeven in a statement for crafting “a compromise which he believes will bring several of his Republican colleagues along,” but she expressed concern about the cost of the additional border security measures.

Heitkamp said she is still reviewing Hoeven and Corker’s proposal.

Jason Flohrs, executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party, called Hoeven’s amendment a good step to securing the U.S. border with Mexico. Combined with the requirements an immigrant needs to meet in order to become a citizen, Flohrs said the bill “starts to seem like a better package.”

“Generally speaking, I think North Dakota Republicans recognize we’ve got to do something,” he said.

Two polls offer wildly different readings of how North Dakotans view the bill.

Sixty-eight percent of North Dakotans said they support the efforts by the Gang of Eight – a bipartisan group of senators – to revamp American’s immigration system, according to a poll conducted for groups backing the measures.

Another poll performed on behalf of the Federation for American Immigration Reform – an organization that seeks to stop illegal immigration and curb legal immigration – found that 64 percent of North Dakotans opposed the immigration bill. The poll was conducted prior to Hoeven’s amendment.

Local immigration lawyer Snyder Gokey said Hoeven’s work was important to ensure Congress addresses a critical issue.

“You’ve got 11 million people here who are living in the shadows and not able to reach their full potential,” Gokey said. “It doesn’t make sense to send them home. We’re playing in an international league, and you want the best players on your team.”