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The Skinny

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A TALL WALL TO SCALE

The Gang of Eight's comprehensive immigration-reform package managed to get through the U.S. Senate last week after it was amended to include a ludicrous "border surge" that included a doubling of the agents working for the U.S. Border Patrol and more than 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

There's zero evidence that doubling the number of Border Patrol agents is necessary to stop the comparatively small number of undocumented border crossers that get past the current force. Sure, you can argue that more agents would help, but doubling the force is nothing more than picking a number out of thin air to make some security-obsessed GOP senators happy.

And you might have thought that the fencing was already largely in place after the Bush administration's big build-the-danged-fence initiative, but it turns out that vehicular barriers constituted a lot of that fencing, especially in remote desert areas.

The vehicular barriers actually make more sense in those stretches of the border; they allow wildlife to pass back and forth across the border and even if people do cross on foot, they have a long—and sometimes deadly—hike ahead of them as they dodge Border Patrol agents. Sure, some slip by the Border Patrol—but a 20-foot fence isn't that hard to scale if you're determined to enter the country, so it's a gigantic waste of money.

Even Sen. John McCain, a member of the Gang of Eight who voted in favor of the bill, said last week that the "border surge" was overkill and compared the proposed new border security proposals to the Berlin Wall.

Now the bill heads to the House of Representatives, where most observers expect that it will die. Already, key Republicans are saying that they won't allow a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now in the United States, which is a deal-breaker for Democrats.

Republican political strategists want to see some kind of deal struck as a gesture to court Latino voters. They believe that if the Republican Party is going to have any chance of recapturing the White House in an increasingly brown America, the GOP can't continue to alienate Hispanics.

But the political calculation is different for House Republicans. Because they live in gerrymandered districts with low Hispanic populations that make them virtually invulnerable to a general election challenge from a Democrat, most Republicans are more likely to fear an attack from the right in a primary. And voting in favor of granting most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants some kind of path to citizenship is the sort of thing that GOP primary challengers can ride all the way to victory on Election Day.

So there's not much incentive for most Republicans to cross party lines to vote with Democrats on passing immigration reform.

There probably are enough Republicans to actually get the bill passed if all—or nearly all—of the Democrats are on board. But House Speaker John Boehner has already declared that the so-called "Hastert rule" will be in effect, meaning that a majority of Republicans will have to support the immigration-reform package for it to get a vote. Boehner went further than that last week, saying that even a bill that came out of a conference committee between the House and Senate would need to get a majority of GOP votes for him to bring it up for a vote.

That leaves just one opening: A discharge petition, a rarely used procedure that allows a majority of House members to force the Speaker to allow a vote on legislation. But that requires a small number of Republicans to defect against leadership and team up with Democrats, which also seems like a way to encourage a primary challenge.

Just look at what happened here in Arizona last month: A handful of GOP state lawmakers worked with a Republican governor and the Democratic caucus to do a fiscally responsible extension of Medicaid that was backed by just about every chamber of commerce in the state—and they're still be declared traitors, with primary challengers coming out of the woodwork.

Can you imagine the primary campaigns against Republicans who worked with Kenyan Monarch Barack Obama to allow the hordes of illegals a pathway to destroying the foundation of this great nation?

Now you have more pundits like Brit Hume, who noted on Fox News this week that the real key to Republican victory is inspiring more white people to vote.

"If you look at the statistics, you find there was one significant bloc of voters who turned out in smaller numbers this time in a major way—way below expectations, below even their '08 turnout—and that was white voters," Hume said. "Now, that doesn't mean that if they turned out that Romney would have gotten them all but it shows you that this Hispanic vote, which is I think now 8.5 percent of the electorate or something like that, is not nearly as important as, still, as the white vote, which is above 70 percent."


NOT QUITE SHOVEL READY

The U.S. Forest Service has released a draft of its final Environmental Impact Statement regarding the proposed Rosemont Mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.

The draft document is now being reviewed by other federal and local agencies.

Rosemont plans to mine 995 acres of private land, but it needs access to 3,670 acres of Forest Service land to dump its tailings and other mine waste.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement notes that the Coronado Forest Service "has no authority to unreasonable circumscribe or prohibit reasonable necessary activities under the General Mining Law that are otherwise lawful." So if you were hoping that the Forest Service would just tell Rosemont that it can't use public land to dump its waste, that option is not on the table.

But that doesn't mean that Rosemont should break out the shovels and pickaxes just yet. The mining company still needs to get a 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act—and that needs approval from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this year, EPA officials were critical of the information that Rosemont had provided regarding the impact on the water table.

"In summary, EPA continues to believe that the applicant has not provided the Corps with sufficient information to make a LEDPA (Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative) determination at this time," wrote EPA Wetlands Office Supervisor Jason Brush in a March 12 letter to Army Corps of Engineer officials. "Based on our review, Rosemont has not demonstrated compliance with EPA's Guidelines.... The 2012 (Alternative Analysis) does not provide sufficient information to make a reasonable judgment as to whether the proposed project is the LEDPA, or adheres to any of the other restrictions on discharges under the Guidelines."

David Steele, a political strategist who is working with opponents of the mine, says this week's report "is just the next step in the process."

Steele said that there are still vital questions regarding compliance with the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act that have not been answered, including how the massive open-pit mine will impact the habitat now used by an endangered jaguar that has been photographed wandering the Santa Rita Mountains.

"We're a long way from them being able to turn dirt on that mine," Steele said. "It's far from inevitable."

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