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Weekly Column (Responding to the Border Security Emergency)

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Responding to the Border Security Emergency

Legislation Aims for More Fencing, More Border Patrol Agents, & More Authority for Local Law Enforcement

Regular readers of this column might know that I've been working with my colleagues this year to send President Bush strong border security legislation that secures our borders and puts a premium on strict enforcement of our immigration laws. Now, after a series of Congressional field hearings, and a lot of debate and discussion, real border security measures are one step closer to becoming law.

Reaching an agreement on anything in Washington can be a monumental task, but so far this month the U.S. House of Representatives pulled together and passed four common sense border security bills: the Secure Fence Act, the Community Protection Act of 2006, the Immigration Law Enforcement Act of 2006, and the Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2006. And there is more on the way.

The Secure Fence Act authorizes more than 700 miles of two-layered reinforced fencing, and places a priority on critical, highly populated areas along the southwest border. It will help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gain operational control over the entire border through a "virtual fence" that deploys cameras, ground sensors, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and integrated surveillance technology.

This bill also requires DHS to evaluate the security and infrastructure needs along the northern border. America's border with Canada is long and much of it is guarded by little more than an orange cone in the middle of the road. We need to know what our vulnerabilities are and how to fix them.

The Community Protection Act allows DHS to detain and deport illegal immigrants who are members of a gang and bar them from receiving asylum or temporary protected status.

The Immigration Law Enforcement Act ends the "catch & release" policy and institutes "catch & return." It provides law enforcement with additional tools for prosecuting smuggling offenses. And it enhances the ability of state and local authorities to voluntarily investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, and transfer to federal custody illegal immigrants.

The Border Tunnel Prevention Act says that individuals who knowingly construct, finance, or allow the construction of an unauthorized tunnel across a U.S. international border can be sentenced for up to 20 years in jail. Individuals caught using such a tunnel to smuggle aliens, contraband, drugs, weapons, or terrorists face even greater penalties.

This week we expect to pass funding for more border patrol agents. When the President authorized the use of the National Guard on the southern border, we saw an immediate drop in the number of those attempting to enter our country illegally. A physical presence on the ground, coupled with fencing and additional security, will make dramatic progress in stemming the flow of illegal immigration.

Unfortunately, opponents of stronger border security measures have promised to throw up roadblocks in the U.S. Senate. The critics complain the bills aren't "comprehensive." In reality, these bills contain common sense solutions for many of our most pressing border security problems. And besides, "comprehensive" has become little more than a code word in the current border security debate for "amnesty." I've long been opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants. And if there's one thing Congress learned during the August field hearings on immigration and border security reform, it's that Americans are against amnesty too.

Despite some opposition, we are working closely with our colleagues in the Senate, and my hope is that they will agree to these measures and allow them to go to the President this fall.

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