Right now, Durbin, Schumer and Reid have the advantage. The Gang of Eight bill being debated in the Senate does not require any security advances before illegal immigrants are granted a decade-long "temporary" legal status. And all that is required before those same immigrants move on to permanent legal status and citizenship is that a "Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy" be "substantially deployed and substantially operational."
What does "substantially" mean? It could mean anything, which is why lawmakers who don't want to place specific security requirements before permanent legalization like it.
When Sen. John Cornyn proposed to take out the word "substantially" and replace it with the specific standards for border security -- 100 percent surveillance of the border, a 90 percent apprehension rate -- Democrats immediately rejected it. They vowed never to even negotiate the issue.
Both Democrats and Republicans have been happy to let the public think the bill is tougher than it is. For example, Sen. Marco Rubio, the leading Republican on the Gang of Eight, talks all the time about the importance of putting new security measures in place, but he means before immigrants are given permanent status, not before the temporary, decade-long legalization that starts the process.
Rubio made that crystal clear in a recent Spanish-language interview. "First comes the legalization," he told the network Univision. "Then come the measures to secure the border." He added that legalization "is not conditional" -- that is, it doesn't depend on any new security measures being in place.
A number of Republicans were surprised by Rubio's words. When he talked about enhanced security these last few months, they thought he meant security before the first round of legalization. He didn't.
And just to make it unavoidably clear, last week the Senate voted on an amendment proposed by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley that would have delayed the first, "temporary" legalization until six months after border security was actually in place. Rubio voted against it, along with the rest of the Gang of Eight and nearly every Democrat.
And even when it comes to the granting of permanent legal status, the Gang bill requires "substantial" deployment of new security, whatever that is. There's simply no requirement that the border be definitely, measurably secure before today's immigrants complete the journey from illegality to citizenship.
That's the way the Gang of Eight wants it.