A flood of new federal agents and high-tech surveillance devices would be dispatched to the southwestern U.S. border with Mexico under a deal aimed at winning passage of an immigration bill in the U.S. Senate, congressional sources said on Thursday.
The proposal, which could be formally offered as an amendment to the sprawling immigration bill as early as Thursday, would double the overall number of U.S. border patrol agents, according to senior Senate Democratic aides.
That would mean assigning 21,000 new officers to the southwestern border in an attempt to shut down future illegal crossings by foreigners.
The bipartisan bill, which was crafted by a group of eight senators and is supported by President Barack Obama, currently calls for adding 3,500 Customs and Border Protection officers by 2017.
The plan also calls for building an additional 50 miles (80 km) of fencing to complete a 700-mile (1,130-km) border barrier, Senate aides said.
At a price tag of around $40 billion to $50 billon, the amendment, if passed, would represent a potentially massive investment of federal resources in securing the border.
While the legislation would authorize these security programs, it would be up to Congress in the future to actually appropriate the money for them.
The deal represents a significant win for Republicans who have been clamoring for tougher border security measures. But Democrats could also claim a victory in fending off Republican attempts to delay legalizing 11 million undocumented residents until new border security measures were in place.
However, one of the aides said that the newly legalized residents would not get "green cards" allowing permanent resident status until the border security measures were in place. Gaining permanent resident status would take 10 years under the bill, giving the federal government a decade to install the added border manpower and equipment.
During debate of the bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, some lawmakers were skeptical that such a huge investment would be a smart use of federal dollars and they questioned whether 700 miles of new fencing was even practical.
But supporters of the legislation are hoping to capture the votes of more undecided Republican senators with this deal, improving chances of a major rewrite of immigration law in the more conservative House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans.
Besides the additional agents and fencing, the measure also calls for employing large amounts of unmanned aerial drones, radars and other surveillance devices to catch or deter illegal crossings.
The plan brought a harsh reaction from at least one civil liberties and human right group.
Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said the huge buildup in agents, surveillance hardware and fencing "is expensive and extreme."
In a telephone interview with Reuters, Ramirez expressed fears that adding so many more armed officers would compound problems already being experienced involving fatal shootings of bystanders on either side of the border.
"The current force on the U.S.-Mexico border is already excessive. What makes matters worse is that there are no checks and balances" on border patrol activities, Ramirez said.
Border patrol officials were not immediately available for comment.