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GOP courts votes with border control focus

WASHINGTON -- The immigration revisions that a Senate group is set to unveil soon will hinge on a Republican demand: making a pathway to citizenship for those here illegally contingent on a measurable boost in border security.

While trying to reconnect with a growing Hispanic electorate that has turned Democratic in voting, Republican lawmakers are mindful of those within their party who rally around candidates campaigning against such immigration. They will try to find that balance in legislation that eight senators of both parties are set to propose this week, followed by a plan that a bipartisan House group is writing.

Republicans, cautious not to alienate their political base, want to demonstrate that they're "tough on border security," said Bruce Altschuler, a political scientist at SUNY Oswego. "They need something in the legislation that will protect their right flank."

The Senate group's plan will provide more Border Patrol agents, improved infrastructure such as radio networks, and increased surveillance by unmanned aerial drones. The legislation will propose a commission of state and local officials from states bordering Mexico to monitor progress of these measures and advise the Department of Homeland Security, according to principles the Senate group released in January.

"A 90 percent effective border control is really an important criteria," Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican member of the Senate group, said recently. "There is a commitment on the part of all members not only to spend more on the border and expand the fences, but to use the technology that -- if there's anything good that came out of Iraq and Afghanistan -- it's this dramatically improved surveillance capabilities we have."

The push to rewrite U.S. immigration law is the first major effort since 2007.

Republican opposition to a citizenship path has declined since November's election, when President Barack Obama won 71 percent of Hispanic votes cast. Republican leaders say the party needs to do more to court the fast-growing voter bloc.

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