Protecting our borders and preventing illegal immigration
I joined my colleagues in the House of Representatives this week in passing three bills to crack down on illegal immigration and keep our borders safe.
- Border Tunnel Prevention Act (H.R. 4830)
This bill will enact criminal penalties for individuals who knowingly construct or finance the construction of an unauthorized tunnel across a U.S. international border.
- Community Protection Act (H.R. 6094)
This legislation will help end the "catch and release" program that releases illegal immigrants back onto the streets, a loophole that some illegal immigrant criminal gang members have utilized in efforts to stay in our country illegally.
- Immigration Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 6095)
This bill reaffirms the authority of state and local law enforcement to voluntarily investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain and transfer illegal immigrants to federal custody. Many state and local law enforcement officers want to assist in the enforcement of immigration laws, and this bill will allow them to play a valuable role in assisting federal immigration officers.
By passing these bills, Congress is taking an important step in ensuring that our country and its borders are secure. As the only member from Louisiana on the Homeland Security Committee, I have worked to ensure the security of our nation, and I will continue to make this a priority in Congress.
I have been working in Congress since the landfalls of Hurricane Katrina and Rita to ensure that the failures of FEMA highlighted last year in Louisiana are never repeated. The response from the federal government was marred by bureaucracy at its worst, and I am happy to see that my colleagues in Congress agree with me that we must reform a system that was ineffective at both the state and federal level.
This week, the Congressional Conference Committee that is negotiating the final details of the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill announced that a final bill will be sent to the House for a vote as early as next week. This is critical to our state because the Conference Committee added important provisions to the bill that I introduced to reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
My provisions in the bill include:
- Mandating FEMA to provide disaster relief assistance to eligible faith-based educational organizations.
- Requiring FEMA to prohibit the layers or tiers of contractors by precluding prime contractors from using subcontracts for more than 65 percent of the cost of the contract.
- Directing FEMA to implement an identity verification system that assures disaster assistance payments are made only to qualified individuals to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse. Earlier this year, I successfully added $1 million to this bill to fund this provision.
- Establishing Gulf Coast Recovery Offices to expedite recovery in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast by housing the appropriate personnel to eliminate backlog, enhancing the administering of assistance programs, providing long-term recovery plans, providing continuity and reducing turnover, and conducting advice on mitigation and preparedness planning.
- Establishing a national asset and inventory program to track and identify, in near real-time, community needs during a national emergency.
- Removing repair and replacement assistance limits within the Individual and Household assistance program.
- Doubling, on a sliding scale, the 15 percent disaster cost level to ensure that adequate measures are put in place to prevent future losses by expanding mitigation prevention programs.
I am very pleased that so many of my recommendations have been taken into account by the Conference Committee, but there is still more to be done. As we continue to rebuild our state, we must have the utmost confidence in FEMA and other federal agencies that they are working as efficiently and effectively as possible not only for the present, but for the future as well.
Remembering Rita and keeping the pressure on my colleagues
This weekend marks the one year anniversary of Hurricane Rita, and I will be spending time at various remembrance ceremonies throughout South Louisiana. It is crucial that the rest of the nation not forget that our state was devastated by not one, but two catastrophic hurricanes last year. We must continue to support all areas of our state in the rebuilding and recovery process, and not just the areas that garner national media attention.
On Wednesday, I was honored to join the "Women of the Storm" group at a press conference in Washington to highlight the importance of every Member of Congress visiting our state so that they can truly understand the devastation from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The most vocal Members of Congress for providing our state with long-term recovery assistance and a share of our own offshore royalties are the ones that have seen for themselves the true devastation on the ground. Pictures simply do not do it justice. It is imperative that every Member of Congress visit our state so that they can truly understand the challenges our state faces.
Remembering the love and life of Sister Leonella
Yesterday I introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives honoring Sister Leonella, an elderly Italian nun working in a hospital who was murdered by Islamic extremists last weekend in Somalia. Sister Leonella was 65 years old. She had lived and worked for nearly four decades in Kenya and Somalia, dedicating her life to helping the poor, the weak, and the dying. She was killed by vicious gunmen, with four bullets, in an apparent execution-style killing. Before she died, colleagues say she whispered in Italian the words "I forgive, I forgive."
The brutal murder of Sister Leonella shows us the contrast between our civilization and the barbarism that we and our allies are confronting today, around the world. In Sister Leonella, we see a lifetime of service - she cast off all her worldly goods and possessions to journey to the lonely corners of the earth, where she cared for the sick and the suffering. In her killers we see the face of fanaticism - driven by hate and cruelty to annihilate those who come, unarmed and unafraid, to bring them charity.
The Congress of the United States of America should honor Sister Leonella - for her sacrifice, and for her bravery. We must pursue the villains like the ones who murdered this nun who seek to destroy the beliefs we hold dear. We must strive against the vile perversion of faith they represent, which seeks the total destruction of Western Civilization, until there is no place these murderers can hide where our swift justice will not find them.
Helping Louisiana strawberry farmers
Last week, Louisiana strawberry farmers were facing a dilemma. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ordered a quarantine on strawberry seedlings coming into the United States from Canada. This quarantine had the potential to eliminate the strawberry crop in Louisiana for spring 2007 if guidelines for admitting unaffected strawberry seedlings were not developed immediately. Our state uses about four million strawberry seedlings from Canada each year.
I have had the pleasure of participating in the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival many times with my children, and we have also visited local strawberry farms in Tangipahoa Parish to pick our own strawberries. I have seen firsthand how critical this industry is for so many Louisiana residents, so I immediately called on the USDA to resolve this issue so that Louisiana strawberry farmers would not miss out on the short window of opportunity for planting the crop this spring.
I was happy then that the USDA listened to my concerns about how this decision could negatively impact this multi-million dollar industry in Louisiana, and announced that they had reached an agreement with Canadian officials to lift the quarantine on unaffected Canadian strawberry seedlings into our country.
This is great news for strawberry farmers in Louisiana, and my family and I are looking forward to enjoying another great crop of delicious Louisiana strawberries this spring.
As always, please feel free to contact my offices if we can be of assistance to you.