Improving Border Security
Over the past several months, our nation has engaged in a vigorous debate about the best way to control our borders. This is one of the most important issues facing the nation today.
The 9/11 Commission Report made clear the significance of securing our borders when it reached the conclusion: "Our investigation showed that two systemic weaknesses came together in our border system's inability to contribute to an effective defense against the 9/11 attacks: a lack of well-developed counterterrorism measures as part of border security and an immigration system not able to deliver on its basic commitments, much less support counterterrorism."
Securing our borders and stopping illegal immigration is now a matter of national security. I strongly support legal immigration and the rights of persons who enter our country through legal channels and follow our laws while here. However, I do not support amnesty for those who have come here unlawfully. Rewarding those who have come here illegally is unfair to the millions of immigrants who have come to America by following the rules.
My guiding principles in immigration reform and border security are: Controlling America's borders, strengthening our national security and economic security. Border control and immigration legislation must offer advances in protecting our country, making Americans safer, and strengthening legal immigration.
During the past couple of weeks, I voted for and the House passed several specific bills that take steps toward securing our borders and keeping America safer.
The Secure Fence Act (H.R. 6061) recently passed by the House, is nearly identical to an amendment I supported when the House passed a comprehensive border security reform bill (H.R. 4437) last December.
The Secure Fence Act would strengthen control of our southern border through the construction of over 700 miles of two-layer reinforced fencing along the southwest border. It authorizes the use of state-of-the-art surveillance technology including infrared cameras, specialized sensors that can differentiate between animals and humans, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to ensure thorough coverage of our borders.
The Immigration Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 6095) just passed by the House, authorizes at least a 20% increase in the number of prosecutors to handle smuggling offenses. The bill also clarifies the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of immigration laws. The legislation is designed to impose "catch and return" instead of the "catch and release" policies that have been in effect.
The Border Tunnel Prevention Act (H.R. 4830) passed by a vote of 422 to 0. The importance of this legislation has become apparent since more than 20 tunnels crossing the U.S.-Mexican border have been discovered September 11, 2001, including one this month. One recently discovered tunnel was twelve football fields long and hid two tons of marijuana. These tunnels are commonly used to smuggle illegal immigrants and drugs into the country and could just as easily be the entry point for terrorists and weapons.
The Border Tunnel Prevention Act provides criminal penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment for individuals who knowingly construct or finance the construction of an unauthorized tunnel across a U.S. international border. The legislation also imposes penalties up to 10 years for those who permit the construction of an unauthorized tunnel on their property. Those caught in connection with smuggling illegal immigrants, contraband, drugs, weapons, and terrorists can be given twice the penalty that the crime alone normally receives.
The Community Protection Act (H.R. 6094) also just passed by the House, will ensure that dangerous illegal immigrants who cannot be deported will not be released onto our streets and into our neighborhoods. According to the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General, 696 high-risk immigrants were released into U.S. communities, due to recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. The legislation allows officials to detain dangerous illegal immigrants for up to six months. The bill also ensures illegal immigrants who are gang members are not allowed asylum or temporary protected status. This legislation protects our neighborhoods from dangerous criminals who have the potential to harm our families.
I am committed to keeping America safer. The 9/11 Commission identified controlling our borders as essential to our nation's security. The legislation the U.S. House passed in the past few weeks, in addition to legislation we passed last year, such as the REAL ID Act, which denies drivers licenses to illegal immigrants for federal identification, increases the safety of our nation and our communities by creating effective and responsible border security laws.