REPORT FROM CONGRESS
By Congressman Roger F. Wicker
WICKER PUSHES FOR ACTION ON BORDER SECURITY
Border security continues to be a high priority as Congress works on an ambitious legislative agenda in the closing days of this session. Contrary to press reports that the issue is dead for this year, I expect final action will be taken on several measures to protect our homeland and toughen immigration law.
Both the House and Senate have passed comprehensive but vastly different immigration reform plans. I strongly support the House version, which focuses on securing our border before addressing other immigration issues. The bill would authorize construction of a security barrier along the 2,000 mile Mexico border that runs across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The legislation is also tough on employers who knowingly hire illegal workers.
I oppose the Senate version because it includes a path toward citizenship for millions of aliens who have entered the country illegally. In addition, the Senate bill's enforcement and border protection provisions are not as strong as those contained in the House version. I seriously doubt an agreement can be reached this year on these two very different measures, but that will not prevent Congress from taking a series of significant steps to enhance border security.
CONGRESS WILL TAKE ACTION
Members of Congress from nine House committees have traveled to 13 states during July and August and conducted 22 field hearings. A recurring message from these sessions was that our porous borders and lax immigration policies represent a threat to national security. House Majority Leader John Boehner made a firm pledge last week that action will be taken to address concerns raised in those hearings. "Congress will put legislation on the President's desk this fall that will strengthen our borders," he said.
Among the items on the border security/immigration reform agenda:
· Adding 1,200 Border Patrol agents and 1,200 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency officers.
· Expanding infrastructure along the border to provide more barriers, fencing, lighting, roads, new stations and bases, and advanced communications equipment.
· Funding for work on a "virtual fence" using state-of-the-art technology including sensors, satellites, radar, and unmanned aerial vehicles.
· Ending the "catch and release program" that serves as a revolving door for re-entry into the U.S. The new policy would return illegals to their country of origin instead of simply releasing them at the border.
· Eliminating the administrative backlog in the legal immigration process. Applicants playing by the rules deserve attention rather than moving illegals to the head of the line.
· Providing more training and cooperation with local and state agencies to enhance their ability to enforce immigration law.
In the five years since the terrorist attack on our country, the federal government has taken dramatic steps to protect our homeland and take the fight to terrorists around the world. These efforts have been successful in preventing another attack on American soil. But law enforcement officials and U. S. Border Patrol agents testified at the hearings this summer that the southern border is "the weak link in our national security."