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Secure Fence Act of 2006 - Resumed

Location: Washington, DC

SECURE FENCE ACT OF 2006--Resumed -- (Senate - September 29, 2006)


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, on May 17 of this year, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that contains a real solution to the immigration crisis in this country. S. 2611 was passed with strong bipartisan support. In a Congress that has been marred by partisan politics, the success of this bill--this truly bipartisan compromise--was a breath of fresh air: an achievement to be proud of.

What has happened now, however, is something to be ashamed of. Once again, politics has hijacked policy. Knowing they cannot go home without taking some action to address immigration, Republicans in Congress have decided that saving their seats is more important than securing the borders.

You might wonder how we got here--when the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform back in May and the House passed an enforcement only bill in December 2005. Once again, the answer is politics. Rather than moving to conference to work out some sort of compromise on these bills, Republicans in the House traveled around the country holding 60 one-sided hearings under the guise of gathering evidence.

This was not a good-faith effort to create effective policy. It was a stalling tactic used to run out the clock on comprehensive reform. That kind of political gamesmanship will not work on me.

Everyone under the sun is for fencing on the border. A fence is an important part of comprehensive reform. I supported an amendment to the comprehensive reform bill that authorized 370 miles of triple-layered fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers along the southwest border. And I supported $1.8 billion in funding for the construction of that fencing and 461 miles of vehicle barriers. I supported construction of this fence because I believe that it is a critical part of comprehensive immigration reform.

But no one in a million years thinks this is the answer. No one in the world thinks Congress should pass this fig leaf and call it a day. If you address the reasons why immigrants come into our country--their ability to find work with a relatively small chance of getting caught--as well as how they come in, then increased fencing makes much sense. Fencing alone simply cannot work.

You don't have to take my word for it. Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona, a border State where much of the illegal border crossings occur, said this about the fence proposal:

You show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder ..... That's the way the border works.

Consider the words of the former Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge. He said:

Trying to gain operational control of the borders is impossible unless our enhanced enforcement efforts are coupled with a robust Temporary Guest Worker program and a means to entice those now working illegally out of the shadows into some type of legal status. ..... [E]ven a well-designed, generously funded enforcement regimen will not work if we don't change the immigration and labor laws that regulate how would-be workers can come to the United States.

What he is saying is that only comprehensive immigration reform, such as S. 2661, will actually fix our immigration problem.

And, you know what? His former boss, the President of the United States, would agree. Speaking in the Oval Office just days before the Senate passed S. 2611, the President said:

An immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive because all elements of this problem must be addressed together, or none of them will be addressed at all.

Current Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, also endorses comprehensive immigration reform:

For [our] Secure Border initiative to be fully effective, Congress will need to change our immigration laws to address the simple laws of supply and demand that fuel most illegal migration and find mechanisms to bring legal workers into a regulated, legal Temporary Worker Program, while still preserving national security.

Perhaps most importantly, the people on the ground in the front lines of the immigration struggle tell us that only comprehensive immigration reform can work. As Jeffrey Calhoon, deputy chief patrol agent for the Yuma sector of the Border Patrol said:

We need a comprehensive immigration reform that provides additional resources for border security, establishes a robust interior enforcement program and creates a temporary worker program.

A vote cast in favor of this fence--in the absence of comprehensive reform--is a vote cast in favor of a piecemeal approach that we know will fail, is a vote cast against comprehensive immigration reform. That is what this vote is about. As my friend Senator SPECTER, said, voting for the Secure Fence Act will undermine our chance to enact comprehensive reform. He should know. He is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Secretary of Homeland Security has not asked for the amount of fencing provided for in this bill. Although the bill does not authorize a specific amount of fencing, it does dictate exactly where the fencing should be put up. Some people believe the bill authorizes 730 miles of fencing, but Customs and Border Protection, CBP, however, estimates that it will require 849 miles of fencing to get the job done.

We can't even estimate the amount of fencing based on funding levels because the bill contains no specific funding authorization. We do know, however, that it will be expensive. The Department of Homeland Security estimates the cost of a single layer of fencing to be $4.4 million a mile and vehicle barriers to $2.2 million. Because double fencing requires extra money for building all-weather roads, the total estimate from the Department of Homeland Security is $6.6 billion, $9 million a mile.

There are many other things that we could do with that kind of money. We could hire, train, and equip more Border Patrol agents. We could purchase more detention beds to end our unfortunate ``catch and release'' policy. We could place more port-of-entry inspectors and canine detection teams in the field. We could invest in new technologies for border protection, or in an interoperable communications system for the Nation's first responders. But no, Congress would rather punt on the tough decisions and dodge the real debate. What a disgrace.

I oppose this failure of the Senate to do its job and live up to its responsibility. I sincerely hope that this vote does not signify the beginning of the end of comprehensive immigration reform as I fear it does.


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