Last week, immigration agents arrested 120 illegal workers at a worksite in Colorado. Specifically, at a worksite within one mile of global surveillance and missile early-warning facilities. Most likely, the workers came to this country to do exactly what they were found doing: working to support their families. But if any of them did have sinister intentions, only a fence separated them from an important military facility.
Incidents like this make clear that illegal immigration is, first and foremost, a national security issue. Twelve million illegal immigrants are in our country already, and hundreds more attempt to get here every day. When I toured the Mexican border last year, a Border Patrol agent informed me 400 to 600 illegal immigrants are apprehended every night just along one 316-mile stretch. Although most of them come seeking jobs and better lives, others are drug dealers, human traffickers and hardened criminals. And some could be terrorists. Intelligence reports indicate al Qaeda considers our borders a key vulnerability.
This is why Republicans have made securing our borders a priority. The Homeland Security appropriations bill, which the Senate passed in July, contained over $14 billion for border security and immigration enforcement—including 1,000 new border agents. Additional legislation added 1,700 detention beds on our way to bringing the total number to 27,500 in 2007. In another funding bill, we provided almost $2 billion to repair fences in high traffic areas, replace broken border patrol aircraft for lower traffic areas, and support training for additional Customs and Border Protection agents.
We also deployed more than 6,000 National Guard troops to our southwest border—and subsequently saw a 45% drop in border apprehensions.
In May, the Senate passed the most sweeping immigration reform legislation to date. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act addressed all aspects of illegal immigration. This carefully balanced bill took steps to fortify our borders, strengthen worksite enforcement, and develop a fair and realistic way to address the 12 million people already in our country illegally, without offering amnesty.
Efforts to reconcile the Senate bill with House-passed immigration legislation have so far proven unsuccessful. But that will not prevent congressional Republicans from continuing to work to strengthen our border defenses. Last week, I brought the Secure Fence Act to the floor. This critical legislation would help us get control of our entire southwest border. The bill authorizes over 700 miles of two-layered reinforced fencing along critical, highly trafficked areas of the border. The remainder of the border would be secured by a “virtual fence” that deploys cameras, ground sensors, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and integrated surveillance technology.
In combination with previously passed border security measures, this legislation should enable the Department of Homeland Security to achieve and maintain complete operational control over the entire border with Mexico. We’ve seen the effectiveness of this approach in San Diego, where apprehensions of border violators dropped from 200,000 a year to just 9,000 per year after installation of a 14-mile fence.
Border protection is a critical national security issue and a key component of immigration reform. I urge my colleagues to put partisan politics aside and join the effort to help ensure the safety and security of the American people by getting control of our borders.