U.S. Senator Susan Collins released this statement tonight after the Senate voted 67-27 to approve an amendment to the Border Security Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.
"There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States today, about 40 percent of whom entered our country legally but then overstayed their visas. Others came into our country illegally in the first place. The presence of millions of people living here illegally is irrefutable evidence that our immigration and border security systems are broken and in need of substantial reform.
"During my time as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I held hearings on how best to strengthen border security. The U.S. border with Mexico is some 2,000 miles long. While it is more likely to make the evening news, we must not forget that our country also has a 4,000-mile long northern border. In 2010, the GAO found that DHS had operational control of only 32 miles of the nearly 4,000 miles of the Northern Border with Canada. DHS also pointed out when the Department released its first Northern Border Strategy in June 2012 that, 'the U.S.-Canada border is the longest common border in the world' and presents 'unique security challenges based on geography, weather, and the immense volume of trade and travel.'
"I have supported past efforts to help ensure that we have an adequate number of federal agents and other resources not only to fight the smuggling of people, drugs, cash, and weapons across our border, but also to help guard against terrorists entering our country. In the past decade, the federal government has substantially increased the number of Border Protection personnel. The amendment considered by the Senate tonight would deploy and station an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents along the southern border. This unprecedented surge is excessive, wasteful, and would be enormously expensive at an estimated cost of $25-$30 billion. I am hopeful that the House will lower this figure to a more realistic number before any final bill is considered.
"Other provisions in the amendment have my strong support, however. The amendment would strengthen border security through the use of more technology, such as ground sensors, as well as a stronger employment verification system and an electronic exit system at air and sea ports of entry. Along with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), I led the fight in the Senate against the Administration's proposal to impose border crossing fees on the northern border which would have hurt the economy of Maine and other border states and imposed needless costs on families with relatives on both sides of the border. The amendment prohibits such fees.
"I also am pleased that the amendment includes a provision I authored that strikes the requirement that 90-percent of the $50 million in funding for Operation Stonegarden grants go to the southern border. Instead, my provision requires that the funding continue to be competitively allocated based on an analysis of the risk, threat, vulnerability and consequences. Operation Stonegarden homeland security grants pool the resources of federal, state, and local officials to accomplish the border security mission. These funds have allowed Maine's local, county and state law enforcement agencies to work hand-in-hand with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to safeguard our border. This funding also allows law enforcement officers to work extra hours to increase visibility in wilderness areas along the border. The resources that are available through Operation Stonegarden are particularly important in Maine where the border areas are vast and often very rural making them vulnerable to illegal activities.
"We must continue to think very carefully about the full range of problems presented by our broken immigration and border systems. On balance, the amendment approved by the Senate tonight is an improvement over the bill reported by the Judiciary Committee, and it will help to strengthen the security of our borders."