Congress approves 700 mile border fence
Congress approves 700 mile border fence
By SUZANNE GAMBOA, Associated Press Writer 13 minutes
WASHINGTON - Republicans will go into the elections
with a message that they've made great strides
fighting illegal immigration, including authorizing a
fence along one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border and
making a $1.2 billion down payment on it.
Among its final tasks before leaving to campaign, the
Senate on Friday night passed and sent to
President Bush a bill authorizing 700 new miles of
fencing on the southern border. No one knows how much
it will cost, but a separate bill also on the way to
the White House makes a $1.2 billion down payment on
it. A 14-mile segment of fence under construction in
San Diego is costing $126.5 million.
The fence bill was passed by the House two weeks ago.
The Senate vote on it Friday night was 80-19.
In addition to money for starting work on the fence, a
homeland security bill passed Friday by the House and
later by the Senate includes $380 million to hire
1,500 more Border Patrol agents and money to build
detention facilities to hold 6,700 more illegal
immigrants until they can be deported.
"We have made giant steps in terms of our ability to
control illegal immigration," House Majority Leader
John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters.
The fence bill became House Republicans' immigration
focus in September after they abandoned President
Bush's call to bring millions of illegal immigrants
into the American mainstream.
In addition to the money in the Homeland Security
spending bill, Boehner cited Bush's deployment of the
National Guard on the border and more frequent arrests
of illegal immigrants at work sites.
"The perception that has been painted mistakenly is
that the United States government, our Congress is not
delivering to the American people on a huge problem
that's out there," said Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist, R-Tenn. "We're active."
Democrats and immigration advocates say Republicans
can hardly claim victory.
House Republicans failed to win measures for deporting
immigrant gang members and empowering local police to
enforce immigration laws. Their biggest obstacle
turned out to be another Republican, Senate Judiciary
Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the
border security achievements trumpeted by Republicans
don't measure up to the more comprehensive reforms her
party backed. What the GOP calls achievements fall
"very far short of what Democrats have proposed over
and over and over again," she said.
After a debate that stretched over three months, the
Senate in May passed a sweeping immigration bill that
combined tougher border enforcement measures with new
guest worker programs and a plan to give millions of
illegal immigrants already in the U.S. a shot at
Despite Bush's ringing endorsement of the measure, the
House would have no part of it, sticking to the bill
it passed five months earlier that would treat illegal
immigrants and people who offer them aid as felons.
Rather than negotiate a compromise with the Senate,
Republican leaders plucked out many provisions of the
House bill for new votes in both the House and Senate
over the past two weeks.
"It's been two years of high visibility, high volume
debate in terms of which way to go in the immigration
system," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the
National Immigration Forum. In the end the debate
ended in a tie, he said.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (news, bio, voting record),
D-Mass., called the fence "a bumper sticker solution
for a complex problem."
"It's a feel-good plan that will have little effect in
the real world," he said. "We all know what this is
about. It may be good politics, but it's bad
immigration policy. That's not what Americans want."
Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., made a 11th-hour appeal to colleagues to
include in the fence bill a measure to help the
agriculture industry, which relies heavily on
Those workers have become harder to find because of
increased border enforcement and availability of jobs
for the workers in construction and other industries,
they said. Consumers ultimately will pay the price for
that at the grocery store, they added.
"Pickers are few and the growers blame Congress,"
Craig said, reading a news headline. "The growers
ought to blame Congress. They ought to blame a
government that has been dysfunctional in an area of
immigration that has been problem for decades."
The secure fence bill is HR 6061; the homeland
security spending bill is HR 5441.
On the Net:
To find legislation: http://thomas.loc.gov