Rubio wants stronger border security in immigration reform bill
The Florida Republican is working on a proposal that would give Congress, not the Obama administration, control over developing a plan.
by Lisa Mascaro
WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a key author of the bipartisan Senate immigration overhaul, is working on a proposal that would give Congress, not the Obama administration, the authority to devise a plan to bolster border security.
The Florida senator has long insisted that the bill's border security provisions are not strong enough to win significant Republican support. He plans to introduce his proposal as the legislation moves to the Senate floor late this week or next.
As the legislation is now written, the Department of Homeland Security would be required to develop a plan to achieve effective control of 90% of the border with Mexico before immigrants in the U.S. illegally would be allowed to gain permanent legal status. Rubio's emerging alternative would shift the responsibility for creating that plan to Congress.
"The problem is people do not trust this administration and the federal government in general to do the law," Rubio said during a recent interview on Fox News. "Maybe the solution is to actually have Congress write that plan for them."
Democrats are likely to look skeptically on any major border security changes in the bill, a delicately negotiated compromise that strengthens immigration enforcement while providing a route to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas. But Democrats are also expected to try to accommodate Rubio to retain his support.
The bill is the most ambitious proposal to revamp immigration law in a generation; it would provide $4.5 billion for more drones, Border Patrol agents, fencing and other security measures on the southern border. Once a plan to control the border has been approved, immigrants could begin what for most would be a 10-year path to legal status. They would have to undergo background checks, pay fines and fees, and show they are financially stable. In 13 years, they could become citizens.
After clearing the Judiciary Committee, the bipartisan bill is headed to the full Senate. A similar measure has stalled in the House but is expected to be unveiled when lawmakers return to Washington this week.
Reopening the debate over border security is risky as any substantial changes to the bill could threaten the bipartisan agreement, which was crafted by four Democrats and four Republicans.
Additional border security amendments were approved in committee as Republicans pushed to toughen the measure. A key change was to expand the requirement for 90% control of the southern border to all sections, rather than just those with the heaviest volume of immigrants crossing into the country illegally.
For the bill to pass the narrowly divided Senate, picking up GOP votes will be essential. No Republican beyond the four who helped write it has endorsed the measure.
Having Congress assume control of a complex border security overhaul would be a sizable undertaking, but one that speaks directly to complaints from Republican senators that the bill cedes too much authority to the executive branch. Those concerns have been an ongoing theme of tea party activists during President Obama's administration.
At the same time, Rubio appears sensitive to Democratic objections that unrealistic border triggers would prevent immigrants from achieving legal status, and is trying to develop an acceptable approach.
Already, senators have tailored border security provisions to their liking. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) reached a compromise that would limit drones to within several miles of the border in her state to prevent snooping on such populated areas as San Diego, while allowing a broader surveillance zone preferred by Cornyn in Texas.
Rubio has met with Border Patrol officials in recent weeks to discuss his proposal, and his staff spent the weeklong Memorial Day recess working on revisions, sometimes in consultation with other senators, aides to the senator said.
The changes Rubio is considering draw from an approach suggested by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has indicated he is open to an immigration overhaul. Paul's views are influential with tea party conservatives, and his support could give the bill a substantial boost by persuading other Republicans to vote for it.
"If we can figure out a way to write a bill that ensures the border will be secure, I believe immigration reform will happen," Rubio said on Fox. "If we cannot do that, or fail to do that, I do not believe immigration reform can — or should — happen."
Congressman says Russians believe Boston bombings were preventable
Russian intelligence officials believe that if U.S. authorities had acted on warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombings could have been prevented, U.S. Rep. William Keating said Saturday after returning from a congressional delegation trip to Russia.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who met with Russian intelligence officials Thursday, said he was provided with details on how U.S. intelligence agents were warned in 2010 that Tsarnaev was preparing to join a terrorist cell in the southern Russian region of Dagestan, the Boston Globe reported.
Keating told reporters at Boston's Logan International Airport that a top Russian counterintelligence official told the delegation that "if we had the level of information sharing that we do now, then the bombings might have been avoided," according to the report.
He said he learned that information was sent from Russian officials to the U.S. government about Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tsarnaev who was killed by an FBI agent in Florida on May 22 while being questioned in the bombing probe, the Boston Globe reported.
Keating told reporters he agrees with the assessment made by Russian officials on the marathon attack and expects to participate in FBI briefings on the Todashev killing.
On Friday, Keating told The Associated Press that Russian officials showed him a letter they sent to the FBI in March 2011, warning that Tsarnaev had plans to join insurgents in Chechnya.
Keating said the letter contained a lot of details about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, including his birthday, telephone number, cellphone number, where he lived in Cambridge and information about his wife and child. He said it also referenced the possibility that Tsarnaev might be considering changing names.
The Russians also had information about his mother, including her Skype address, Keating said.
Tsarnaev died following a shootout with police three days after the April 15 bombing. Authorities believe he carried out the attack with his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was captured alive and remains in custody.
Keating told the AP that the Russians believed Tsarnaev wanted to go to Palestine and engage in terrorist activities, but was unable to master the language.
“That was the level of detail they were providing in this letter,” Keating said.
FBI officials declined comment Friday.
After getting the March 2011 letter from the Russians, the agency did a cursory investigation and closed its assessment on Tsarnaev.
The April 15 Marathon explosions killed three people and injured more than 260.
Meetings help police combat neighborhood crime
by Amy Renee Leiker
Wichita police late last month blocked off both ends of the 1700 block of North Piatt. A handful of officers from Patrol North walked house-to-house, knocking on doors and inviting residents out.
Officer Carl Lemons introduced himself as community policing officer, then explained that on May 19 someone got shot on their street.
“We're here to get information and let you guys know what occurred,” Lemons said to the group assembled in a nearby church parking lot.
“Are you with a neighborhood watch?”
“We used to be,” a man replied. “But I don't know if it's active anymore.”
The gathering — known as an Impact meeting — is just one of the Wichita Police Department's tactics to help combat neighborhood crime.
Lt. Doug Nolte said police first held the meetings in 2010.
They're scheduled when a major crime or crime trend occurs in a neighborhood.
“The goal is to meet with people who are impacted specifically in that neighborhood with whatever crime has gone on,” Nolte said.
He estimated that each of the police department's four bureaus holds between 20 and 50 annually.
“It's been effective for us,” Nolte said.
Three adults and a few young children attended the North Piatt meeting on May 22.
Sometimes everyone on the block shows up, said Sgt. Travis Rakestraw, who helped draw out residents that day.
Other times, no one does.
But the face-to-face interaction facilitated when officers knock on doors generates later crime tips and also gives police a chance to “answer questions and be an ear” for residents, he said.
“It helps to build a relationship: Them (residents) with their community policing officer,” Rakestraw said.