PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.R. 4830, BORDER TUNNEL PREVENTION ACT OF 2006; FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.R. 6094, COMMUNITY PROTECTION ACT OF 2006; AND FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.R. 6095, IMMIGRATION LAW ENFORCEMENT ACT OF 2006 -- (House of Representatives - September 21, 2006)
Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, it's often said legislating is like making sausage--stuffing various ingredients into one product. But sometimes it's more like slicing salami--cutting something into pieces, to be swallowed one at a time.
Today, the Republican leadership clearly has decided that sliced salami will be the blue plate special, and that there can be no changes or substitutions. They are saying they favor a piecemeal approach to immigration reform and are more interested in political posturing than in trying to enact legislation that will meet all the challenges involved in strengthening our borders, reducing illegal immigration, and addressing the status of illegal immigrants now in the United States.
So they have cut three pieces off the immigration bill the House passed last year, and are bringing them to the floor under this rule which prohibits us from even debating any amendments or offering any additions to the menu.
In other words, it's take it or leave it, and forget about trying to make any improvements--just like it was with last week's serving, the bill for 730 miles of high-price fencing along the border. I think that is wrong, and I cannot support that procedure.
However, I will vote for the three separate bills covered by this rule, because while I have some concerns about some of their provisions, on balance I think they would improve current law and policies.
That was why last year I voted for H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antierrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, the overall bill from which today's bills have been sliced.
Among other ingredients, that bill also included provisions added by the amendment by our colleague from California, Mr. HUNTER. As I mentioned, those provisions were sliced off last week and served up as H.R. 6061, the so-called Secure Fence Act.
I am not opposed to the construction of fencing or other barriers along our borders, but I am not convinced Members of Congress should attempt to substitute our judgment about technical questions of engineering and law enforcement for the expertise of those responsible for border security.
I voted against the Hunter amendment, and against H.R. 6061, because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities--those with the most experience in border security have not requested such a mandated expenditure, and in fact, have expressed a preference for different resources and tools to do their job. Moreover, I am skeptical that the kind of fence-building mandated by the Hunter amendment and H.R. 6061 is a cost-effective response to the problem of illegal entries into the United States.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, about 730 miles of new fencing would be required by H.R. 6061. They say that it costs about $4.4 million for a single layer of fencing per mile--but the bill calls for double-fencing, which costs more, and also for
building all-weather roads in the middle. So, using a conservative estimate of $9 million a mile, it would cost nearly $6.6 billion to build the 730 mile fence called for in H.R. 6061.
I think it would be better from Congress to resist the temptation to micro-manage the Department of Homeland Security and instead to allow it the discretion to spend those billions of dollars on a variety of measures--fences in some places and other kinds of barriers in other places, plus other technology and increased border patrol manpower--that it decides, based on experience and expertise, will do the best job of securing the border.
And if those steps turned out to cost less than 730 miles of double fencing, the Department could put the rest of the money to good use.
For example, $2 billion would pay for the 35,000 detention beds called for the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (the 9/11 Act) that are need to implement the ending of the so-called catch and release of illegal aliens apprehended after they cross the border. It would take only $360 million to hire, train and equip 2,000 border patrol agents, while $400 million, 250 more port-of-entry inspectors and 25 percent more canine detection teams could be added to the field. Or for $400 million every U.S. port of entry could have a radiation portal monitor, so that all incoming cargo can be screened to detect nuclear or radiological material.
The three bills we will consider today are not perfect, but they are less problematical and I will vote for them.
H.R. 4830, the Border Tunnel Prevention Act would establish new criminal penalties for people involved with constructing illegal tunnels beneath our borders, including those who knowingly finance such actions, with particularly severe penalties for using such tunnels to smuggle illegal immigrants, drugs, weapons of mass destruction or other illegal goods into the United States. I strongly support this strengthening of current law.
H.R. 6094, called the Community Protection Act, like corresponding parts of the larger bill I supported last year, would allow for longer detentions of illegal aliens prior to deportation if they have refused to comply with deportation proceedings, pose a threat to community safety or public health, because they have a highly communicable disease, or if their release would threaten national security or have serious adverse consequences for American foreign policy. It includes provisions for periodic review of such detentions and affords these detained aliens an opportunity to seek reconsideration of their cases and to present evidence in support of their release. In addition, it would centralize judicial review of legal challenges to the detention of illegal immigrants--something that I think is of dubious value but not so bad as to outweigh the rest of the legislation.
Further, the bill would explicitly bar admission to the United States of members of criminal street gangs, allow the deportation of illegal aliens who belong to gangs convicted of threatening or attempting crimes, and requires that they be held in detention prior to deportation and makes criminal street gang members ineligible to receive asylum or temporary protected status. I strongly support these provisions, because criminal street gangs whose members include illegal aliens are a serious and growing problem in too many communities.
Finally--for today, at least--H.R. 6095, the Immigration Law Enforcement Act would establish new procedures to speed resolution of lawsuits brought against the Federal
Government that are based on the implementation of immigration laws and require the Justice Department to hire more people to prosecute human smuggling cases.
It also includes language reaffirming the existing inherent authority of the States, their political subdivisions, such as counties or cities, and their law-enforce agencies to investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer to Federal custody aliens in the United States ..... for the purposes of assisting in the enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States in the course of carrying out routine duties. I find this acceptable because the bill says ``Nothing in this section may be construed to require law enforcement personnel of a State or political subdivision of a State to--(1) report the identity of a victim of,
or a witness to, a criminal offense to the Secretary of Homeland Security for immigration enforcement purposes; or (2) arrest such victim or witness for a violation the immigration laws of the United States.''
In other words, this is not a mandate and will not interfere with the ability or any state or local government to decide whether and how it will undertake to respond to question of immigration law and policy, matters which are essentially the responsibility of the federal government.
Mr. Speaker, nobody should think that passing these bills today--something I support--will come close to completing the work that Congress needs to do regarding immigration.
This plateful of slices is not even the full salami the House passed last year--a bill that, by itself, dealt with only part of the full menu of issues that must be addressed.
I voted for that bill because I think improving border security is absolutely necessary. But I am convinced it is not sufficient.
It does not address the most difficult and challenging aspect of immigration reform, namely the question of how to deal humanely and effectively with the millions of illegal immigrants currently living and working in this country or the difficulties that their employers including many Colorado companies that have contacted me--during the transition to a changed labor market that may follow revisions in current immigration laws.
As we all know, the Senate has passed what its supporters--including President Bush--say is intended to be a comprehensive immigration reform measure. We should follow their lead.
Following the Senate's lead does not mean simply accepting their bill as it stands. I think that would be a mistake, because I think that bill has defects that must be remedied. Instead, it means recognizing the full dimensions of the problems that must be addressed and the need to address them without unnecessary delay. It means appointing House conferees and directing them to meet with their counterparts from the other body to resolve differences and shape a final, comprehensive bill that addresses those problems in a way that is in the best interests of our country and the American people.
If that effort succeeds--as I think it can and am convinced it must--the result not only will be better than any of the bills before us today, it will be better than either the bill we passed last year or the bill that the Senate passed earlier this year and in fact will deserve to be sent to the President for signing into law.