Posted on Wed, May. 17, 2006
Senate votes to build 350 miles of border fencing
By Michelle Mittelstadt
The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON - Embracing get-tough measures, the Senate voted Wednesday to
build 350 miles of new triple-layered fencing at the Southwest border and to
exclude 500,000 illegal immigrants convicted of felonies or multiple
misdemeanors from becoming citizens.
But even as they placed a more conservative stamp on the huge immigration
bill, lawmakers softened another border enforcement directive. They delayed
a controversial Bush administration plan to require passports or similar ID
for travelers - American and foreign - going to and from Mexico and Canada.
Border communities, the Canadian government and business interests have
protested loudly that the plan, due to take effect in 2008, would chill
tourism, commerce and cross-border travel.
And senators refused to strip out a key underpinning of their compromise,
creation of a path to eventual citizenship for many of the 11 million to 12
million immigrants here illegally.
Even as the Senate forged through a series of votes, signs of just how hard
it's going to be for Congress to get an immigration bill to President Bush's
desk this year were evident elsewhere on Capitol Hill.
Presidential adviser Karl Rove was dispatched to meet privately with a
restive House Republican caucus in tumult over Bush's call to legalize
millions of illegal immigrants and create a temporary worker program for
future foreign arrivals.
The Rove pep talk appeared to change few minds among House conservatives who
insist the U.S.-Mexico border must be secured before any consideration can
be given to people here illegally or future guest workers.
"He heard loud and clear that we believe the House bill must be passed - and
passed first," said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
And the Senate bill, far more generous than the House version, was denounced
on the House steps by some immigrant-rights advocates who view it as wholly
inadequate. Members of the March 25th Coalition, which helped organize the
massive street rallies and boycotts, termed the Senate bill "repressive" and
said they'd settle for nothing less than legalization for all illegal
immigrants and near-unlimited visas for foreigners who want to come in the
"We're not going to compromise," said Jesse Diaz, a March 25th Coalition
The rift in Congress over immigration is mirrored within the
immigrant-rights movement, which isn't speaking or lobbying in concert. Just
hours after the March 25th Coalition's press conference, other Hispanic
groups that view the Senate bill far more favorably than the House approach
rallied on the National Mall to press for a comprehensive immigration fix.
Several hundred immigrant advocates from Texas and other states crisscrossed
Capitol Hill on Wednesday, pressing their case for a legalization plan.
In the Senate, there was surprising unity over an amendment by Republican
Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona that just weeks before was
denounced by critics as a poison pill designed to take down the entire bill.
On a 99-0 vote, the Senate rejected legalization for illegal immigrants
convicted of felonies, three or more misdemeanors, or who have ignored
"If you're a thug, if you're a crook, a murderer, a rapist or a bunko artist
... you don't really add any value" to the United States, said Sen. Lindsey
Graham, R-S.C. "And the only person you can blame is yourself."
As part of immigration action:
On an 83-16 vote, senators approved Sen. Jeff Sessions' plan to build 350
miles of new border fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers in highly
trafficked areas to be designated by the Homeland Security Department. The
Alabama Republican estimated his measure, which acts on a Homeland Security
request for the fencing, would cost $1 billion, though other estimates
placed it as high as $4 billion. The House has approved 700 miles of fencing
along the nearly 2,000-mile border.
By voting for more fencing, "We are sending a signal that we are serious
about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants over the border," Sessions
But critics complained about the signal a border fence would send to Mexico.
"What we have here has become a symbol for the right wing in American
politics," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
By a 50-48 vote, the Senate agreed to an amendment by Cornyn that would deny
illegal immigrants enrolled in a temporary worker program the right to
self-petition for legal permanent residence. Instead, employers would
petition for the green cards after proving they'd first tried to find an
American worker for the job. Democrats, who strongly opposed the measure,
said they'd try to revisit the matter on Thursday.
The mood was sour elsewhere, with Senate appropriations leaders and the
White House clashing over how to pay for Bush's plan to send 6,000 National
Guardsmen to the border.
The White House is adamant the deployment be funded by a $1.9 billion
allocation set aside just weeks ago in a war-time emergency spending bill
for vehicles, aircraft and boats for border surveillance. But appropriators
wanted to find the money elsewhere and retain funding they say the Border
Patrol sorely needs.
As for the Border Patrol agents who now won't get equipment, "A lot of them
are going to be sitting in cars that don't run or in airplanes that don't
take off," said a frustrated Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who had secured the
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