- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

Congress yesterday approved hiring 1,000 new Border Patrol agents in fiscal year 2006 with Senate passage of the homeland security spending bill.

The bill, which passed by voice vote after first clearing the House on Thursday night, now goes to President Bush for his signature.

Coupled with the 500 agents approved in an earlier emergency spending request, Congress now has funded 1,500 agents for next year — far higher than the 210 agents Mr. Bush proposed in his February budget.

But it is 500 agents short of the 2,000 per year Congress and the White House agreed to in last year’s intelligence overhaul bill.

The bill passed yesterday also includes money for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hire 250 more immigration investigators and 460 detention and removal personnel. It also brings the total number of detention beds to 20,300.

“Today’s bill is critical to successfully tightening enforcement along our borders; however it’s just a first step,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, who will visit the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas next week to look at border security firsthand.

In the House yesterday, more than 80 Republicans sent the president a letter calling on him to enforce immigration laws first and put off action on a guest-worker program until later.

“History has shown that enforcement provisions are ignored and underfunded while guest-worker and amnesty provisions are always implemented,” write the House members, led by Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas, Tom Tancredo of Colorado and John Hostettler of Indiana.

Also yesterday, the Senate passed its version of the defense spending bill, a $445 billion package that includes another $50 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That bill, which passed 97-0, now must be reconciled with the House version, and lawmakers face a veto threat from Mr. Bush, who objects to a Senate amendment that would set standards for detention and treatment of enemy combatants in the war on terror.

The homeland security bill, meanwhile, funds the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, federal air marshals and grants to states and localities. It also includes $40 million to help states carry out the Real I.D. Act, which sets standards for driver’s licenses.

Senators have said the 1,500 Border Patrol agents are the most that can be hired and trained in fiscal year 2006.

After the administration introduced the budget in February, officials defended the small requested increase in Border Patrol agents. But both Republicans and Democrats said that request was inadequate.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said the homeland security increases in yesterday’s bill owe nothing to the administration.

“Time and time again, this administration has talked a good game on homeland security, but it has not followed through with a sustained commitment of resources,” he said. “From border security to transit, rail and port security, to air cargo security and explosive detection, the initiative to fund these efforts came from where? The Congress.”

Some Democrats, including Connecticut Sens. Joe Lieberman and Christopher J. Dodd, said they opposed the final bill because it didn’t spend enough on some parts of homeland security, particularly grants to states and localities.

“We are simply not investing the resources that are required to make this nation as safe as possible,” Mr. Dodd said. “Instead of filling in the gaps that continue to exist within our homeland security foundation, we are letting those gaps and cracks grow in several critical respects.”

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