WICKER LAUDS HOUSE ACTION ON BORDER SECURITY
January 2, 2006
The House of Representatives took action in the closing days of the 2005 session to combat illegal immigration and regain control of our borders. Passage of the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act is a significant step toward enhancing national security and the rule of law.
Illegal immigration is not just a matter of interest in states along our border with Mexico. It is having an effect on local economies, schools, health care delivery, and public safety all across the country. The issue has been brought into even more focus since September 11, 2001. Our porous borders provide easy access for terrorist organizations seeking to send operatives into the U.S.
The comprehensive measure addresses the need to establish physical barriers along the border with Mexico. It also holds employers accountable for hiring illegal workers while increasing penalties for individuals convicted of smuggling aliens across the border.
Legislation addressing illegal immigration stirs strong emotions, and reaching consensus will be a difficult task. Winning approval in the House is just the first step in the process. The Senate will consider the measure in 2006 and is expected to attach guest-worker provisions similar to those offered by President Bush. The President has made it clear, however, that his reform plan does not include amnesty for aliens already in the country illegally.
BEGINNING A SECURITY FENCE
As I wrote in a recent column, I support building a security fence along the border and have co-sponsored a bill by Rep. Duncan Hunter of San Diego to achieve that goal. Rep. Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was successful in adding a provision to this measure to begin the process. It would establish security fencing at five border zones covering nearly 600 miles. A virtual fence with wide-ranging, state-of-the-art technology would cover the remaining span of the 2,000 mile border. The devices include cameras, sensors, radar, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Other provisions in the legislation include:
· Mandating employment verification. In a simplified process, employers would be required to check a federal data base to confirm authenticity of Social Security numbers offered by new workers. The process would be phased-in over six years. Employers who knowingly hire illegal workers would be subject to increased civil and criminal penalties.
· Targeting Human Smugglers. Under current law, individuals convicted of alien smuggling often receive lenient sentences. This legislation, sought by authorities in border-area jurisdictions, greatly increases penalties for the crime and establishes mandatory minimum sentences in some circumstances.
· Ending "Catch and Release" Practice. Each year more than 120,000 illegals from countries other than Mexico are caught and then released due to lack of detention space. The legislation requires mandatory custody for all illegals until they are removed from the country.
· Stopping Revolving Door. Penalties would also be increased for individuals who re-enter the country after having been removed.
The issues surrounding illegal immigration are wide-ranging and complex, but there is no question about the need to secure our borders. There is no time like the present to address these concerns.