Congress Puts Border Security First

When Congress returned from its month-long August recess, the conventional wisdom in Washington was that immigration reform was dead. However, that hasn’t stopped House Republicans — and now Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) — from making sure border security is a priority. Conservatives should commend them for listening to the concerns of the American people and acting on an issue that’s vitally important.

After last week’s passage in the House of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 — on a 283-to-138 vote with most Democrats opposed — it wasn’t clear what would happen in the Senate.

Frist made clear his intentions last night, vowing to bring the Secure Fence Act up for a vote on the Senate floor. The Senate Republican leader announced his plans on his VOLPAC blog.

“A nation that can’t secure its borders can’t secure its destiny or administer its laws. And the reality is that America’s borders today are inexcusably porous.

“One of the most important and most effective ways that we can stop illegal immigration is through the construction and proper maintenance of physical fences along the highest trafficked, most commonly violated sections of our border with Mexico.”

Kudos to Frist for making sure — in these final days before Congress packs up and heads home — that this border-security package will get a vote.

The legislation, which is by no means the final solution to our problems at the U.S.-Mexican border, will add fencing, cameras, personnel and other equipment to the Department of Homeland Security’s arsenal.

Among the highlights of the bill are these priorities:

  • Authorizes more than 700 miles of two-layered reinforced fencing along the Southwest border with prioritized placement at critical, highly populated areas and requiring an evaluation of infrastructure needs along the northern border;
  • Mandates that the Department of Homeland Security achieve and maintain operational control over the entire border through a “virtual fence” that deploys cameras, ground sensors, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and integrated surveillance technology;
  • Requires the Department of Homeland Security to provide all necessary authority to border personnel to disable fleeing vehicles, similar to the authority held by the U.S. Coast Guard for maritime vessels; and
  • Requires the Department of Homeland Security to assess the vulnerability of the Northern border.

Congress still needs to appropriate the money for the 700 miles of fencing — a task that should take priority when it returns to finish its spending bills. But it’s clear from last week’s action in the House and Frist’s move in the Senate that Republicans are beginning to understand how they should deal with the problem of illegal immigration — putting border security first.