SECURING AMERICA'S BORDERS ACT
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I come to the floor this afternoon to participate in what I believe is a fundamentally important, if not historical, debate about national security and border control and immigration and local law enforcement, of a magnitude and an importance that this country has not seen in a long while.
This afternoon, I want to focus on border control because border control is synonymous with national security. If there is one responsibility our Government has--it is, in fact, a constitutional responsibility--it is that of national security.
It is crucial, for observers, citizens, listening in, watching, trying to understand this debate--and oftentimes frustrated by it--to understand that while there are many contentious issues that will be discussed and debated over the course of the remainder of today and tomorrow and next week--and that the news media may well focus on only segments of it, attempting to dramatize it, attempting to suggest there are great divisions amongst Members of the Senate and the Congress as a whole, and the citizens as a whole--Congress will start and end with legislation that serves, first and foremost, the national security interests of our country.
The bill that is now before us includes provisions that are unique and important and truly address those kinds of concerns that Americans have been speaking out about ever since 9/11, ever since we were thrust upon the issue of immigration and a reality that we had anywhere from 8 to 12 million foreign nationals, undocumented people within our country, and that some of them, while but a few, were intent on doing us harm, were intent on attacking our citizens and not here to work and to benefit themselves and their families. So it is appropriate that we start this discussion by looking at a critical element of national security, and that is simply border control.
I must tell my colleagues, that is as difficult, if not more difficult than attempting to address, understand, and identify some 11-plus million undocumented foreign nationals who are now in our country. Why? Because we have phenomenal borders. The United States has 7,458 miles of land borders and over 88,600 miles of tidal shoreline. We cannot possibly build a fence that long, that high, and that deep everywhere to accommodate with absolute surety that those borders are impenetrable.
I grew up with this as a very common statement amongst most Americans. When you read the history books and the government books of my day, while I was in the sixth and seventh and eighth grade and in high school and college, America was tremendously proud that it had literally thousands and thousands of miles of northern border and southern border that were unguarded, that we were a peaceful nation. And the nation to our north, Canada, and the nation to our south, Mexico, were peaceful nations. We didn't have to have guarded borders, and we didn't guard them. It was not only impractical in that day, it was simply unnecessary.
We realize the world has changed significantly and that clearly establishing workable security policies that act in many ways as a fence or a border must be called a virtual fence, a virtually impenetrable border because it won't be just building the fence where many propose it ought to be built. It goes well beyond that. It truly is a policy that works, that allows, that identifies, that controls, that shapes the relationship of our border so that while we want to stop those who may do us harm and control those who want to cross the border undetected, we must also recognize that we have to allow and we must allow movement of innocent citizens and commercial traffic. That is the nature of a border--to control, to shape, to clarify, to identify those who move across our borders.
In the last 5 years, we have increased funding for border security by 60 percent. For those who say you have done nothing, you are just flat wrong. This Congress, understanding from 9/11 to today the responsibility of controlling our borders, has invested dramatically the resources of the American taxpayer. We now have some 10,000 Border Patrol agents along the southwestern border and 1,000 along our northern border. Our border protection agents have removed more than 4.5 million people, of whom some 350,000 have criminal records. In fiscal year 2005 alone, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 1.19 million people attempting to enter our country illegally. Through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, Congress has provided more than $4 billion to State and local governments to help with the cost of incarcerating criminal aliens. It isn't just making sure the border is impenetrable, but when they cross the border making sure that we at the local level can bring about the kind of law enforcement that apprehends at least the criminal element and incarcerates them and holds them for future prosecution.
Last year's emergency supplemental funding bill contained an amendment by Senator Robert Byrd and myself reprogramming funds from other programs to make an immediate and substantial downpayment on increasing Border Patrol as well as adding hundreds of other law enforcement agents and nearly 2,000 more detention beds for illegal immigrants the law requires to be held for criminal activity. We didn't even have space, once arrested, once apprehended, to put the criminal element or those we felt might be engaged in criminal activity.
However, even as we have increased border enforcement, net illegal immigration continues to be estimated at 400,000 to 500,000 people a year. We were all stunned last week at the report that undercover Federal agents managed to smuggle radioactive material through security checkpoints at the border. For all the billions we have invested, while there is no question the border is tightening, it is still penetrable in an illegal way.
Clearly, despite the resources we have poured into the border, and with many successes, there is still much left to be done. The legislation before us, incorporated in a much broader immigration policy, is the kind of legislation that ought to go first, coupled with a responsible national immigration policy.
Both bills before the Senate today contain numerous provisions aimed at improving our border security. They will increase the number of Federal officers policing our borders and improve their training. These bills will clean up Federal laws addressing criminal aliens, increasing the penalties for alien smuggling and gang violence and illegal entry and reentry, and expanding the definition of aggravated felony that is the basis for removing aliens or denying them entry in the first place.
These bills support the President's decision to end the catch-and-release program. Can you imagine, that is exactly what we have been doing. You catch an undocumented worker, you file it, you release them. Why? We didn't have the capacity to detain them and hold them, to process them appropriately and make sure they were returned to the other side of the border. Clearly, that is now in here, instead of requiring detention of all aliens caught illegally across the border until they could be formally removed. We couldn't handle that. Now we are increasing the number of ports of entry and provide for improvement of existing ports.
There is much more to improve border security in this legislation. I thought I would refer to a few of the other areas of enforcement policy. The bill authorizes 250 new Customs and border protection officers, 200 new positions for investigative personnel to investigate alien smuggling, and 250 additional port of entry inspectors annually from fiscal 2007 to fiscal 2011. It also increases the number of Customs enforcement inspectors by 200 in section 5203 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. It authorizes 2,400 additional Border Patrol agents annually for 6 years, adding an additional 4,400 agents to the border over 6 years to the 10,000 already added by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, for a total of 14,400 new Border Patrol agents by 2011.
If America says nothing is being done, then America, listen up: This Congress is as committed as you are concerned about border control and building that fence. But it will not be a steel and concrete fence stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of California and the west coast. It will be a virtual fence of electronics, of surveillance flights, of the recognition of new ports and people, personnel, because the other is, at best, impractical and, at worst, once done, unworkable. That is why what we are doing now, many of us who have studied and worked with this issue for a good number of years believe, is the right approach.
Technical assistance and infrastructure: The bill authorizes such sums as are necessary in the acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras, poles, sensors, and other kinds of technology to achieve operational control of the borders and to construct all-weather roads and add vehicles and vehicle barriers along the borders.
It requires the Department of Homeland Security to replace damaged primary fencing and double- or triple-layered fencing in Arizona's population centers and on the border, and to construct at least 200 miles of vehicle barriers and all-weather roads in areas that are known transit points for illegals who traffic the border. Is this nothing? This is a phenomenal, historic investment in building that virtual fence that is necessary and appropriate at this time.
It is safe to say that nobody in Congress, House or Senate, believes our job is done until we have acted to increase security for America's citizens, knowing that those who cross the border cross it legally and that those who cross are not a criminal element, are not putting our citizens at risk. None of us believes our job will be done until the border is closed but open to legal entry, open to those who have a right to come across because we have so designated them, so recognized them for the purpose they would come--to work in our economy to provide for themselves and their families, to come here to work, to go home, to someday become an American citizen if they choose and if they stand in line and make the application and make the effort to become just that.
I have been very outspoken about agriculture and agriculture's need for foreign national workers. American agriculture needs some 1.2 million workers annually. Many will be foreign nationals, as they have been in the past. Without them, it is possible that we could collapse American agriculture. If we cannot find the workforce for American agriculture to come here to work, then American agriculture's investment will go elsewhere to fill the supermarket shelves of our country with the quality of plentiful food that American consumers have grown and expect to be there. What American consumers have not recognized is that over the last 20 years, most of that food has been harvested by illegal foreign nationals.
Next week, I will talk in detail about changes in policy that are embodied within this legislation to improve our immigration policy, to recognize those who have come who deserve to be treated fairly. But today, tomorrow, and clearly throughout the week, I hope Americans understand that first and foremost our effort is to gain control of our borders, to make them secure, to make Americans feel comfortable that we have done our very best to take the thousands and thousands of miles of border, both land and sea, and to secure them for the sake of our Nation's security.
I yield the floor.