The Border Security Bill That's a Start

The emergency border security bill that passed Congress Thursday has earned a nod from conservatives in the GOP.

The substance of the bill – which increases funding and manpower on the border by $600 million — was non-controversial enough that it passed the House by a voice vote and the Senate (twice) by unanimous consent.

The noticeable drama over the bill, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer and passed just before the Senate left for August recess, was between the two branches of Congress, not the two parties. The Senate bill includes revenue measures, and under the Constitution, such bills must originate in the House. The House passed the bill during its special session Tuesday and sent it back to the Senate, which engineered a special session of its own Thursday to pass the bill again.
The battle for border security funding has been going back and forth between the two chambers since July. The House included border funding in a larger bill in early July which the Senate took out. Then the House passed the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Border Security Act.  The Senate responded with its own bill, which has now passed both chambers.

Initial reactions to the bill are promising for conservatives. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee caucus, said he’s pleased the bill is paid for and thinks the revenue measure regarding visas in the bill is fair – the bill generates revenue by raising fees for visas of foreign workers, although U.S. technology companies are excluded.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who co-sponsored a letter with Poe in April asking President Obama to send more National Guard troops to the border, was also pleased with the bill. While not conservative, Giffords has fought hard for more funds going to border security and represents the county where Arizona ranchers Robert Krentz was killed earlier this year.

Both Giffords and Poe highlighted the $10 million the bill gives to judiciary, which will help handle cases dealing with border violence and immigration enforcement.

“That is the bottleneck,” Poe said. “The immigration judges work all the time, but there are not enough of them to process people who are here illegally.  And therefore many of them don’t ever get deported because the processing takes too long, and they’re put on recognizance and released, and some of them commit crimes.”

“Our judges are absolutely overwhelmed,” Giffords said of Arizona and her district. “Just because we can apprehend more illegal immigrants, and before we can seize more drugs, we still have to process these individuals and these criminals through the courts.”

Giffords and Poe have previously pushed for border security measures that didn’t make it in to the bill. Poe wants the armed National Guard on the border. Giffords, who asked the Senate to come back into session to make sure the bill was passed after it went through the House, initially requested $701 million for border security in House legislation, which included an additional 200 border patrol agents and funding for local law enforcement reimbursed for doing federal work, known as Operation Stonegarden.

“It’s a good start, but it’s not a finish,” Poe said of the current bill.

The bill provides for 1,500 more enforcement agents on the border and funds, among other things, U.S. marshals, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and unmanned aerial drones on the border.

One thing the bill did not address was having a physical fence on the border. Poe said he embraces an all-of-the-above approach that includes a physical fence where needed.

Poe said the next step for border security is results. He’s wary of those trying to use the bill as a political maneuver to begin discussing amnesty.

“We can’t be lulled into assuming the border is secure by passing this legislation,” Poe said. “We may have a bill, but we don’t have results.”

Giffords said she often gets questioned on border security, “When will be enough?”

“It will be enough when the residents along the U.S.-Mexico border — my ranchers, my cattlegrowers, my residents – when they’re not emailing me or calling me on a regular basis telling me about the property damage, their fences being cut, their cars being stolen, their cattle being killed, the thousands of pounds of garbage that are being dumped along the border, the drug smugglers that they see on a daily basis that are completely dressed in black,” said Giffords.