- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

America has high blood pressure about border security and illegal immigration. Headaches caused by porous borders and lax enforcement are leading Congress to look at the problem differently and in the medicine cabinet for some new cures. The diagnosis of the problem is changing quickly this summer, and it may take more than a couple of aspirin to fix it.

No one has a better feel for the pulse of his colleagues than House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. He knows that convincing his fellow members and American voters that Congress is serious about dealing with the problems of border security and illegal immigration now is the key to passing sensible, broader reforms down the road. He also recognizes the political threat of inaction and has some sensible tactics to make sureRepublicans maintain their advantage on this critical security issue.

Mr. Delay has proposed a two-step strategy for passing immigration reform in Congress — first, enact tougher border-enforcement measures and then pivot to transitioning the 10 million to 12 million illegal persons with broader reform legislation that deals with the guest workers issue and other concerns of employers. As one of the most adroit vote counters in the history of the House, he is like a legislative investor, knowing that taking steps now to control our borders and crack down on illegal immigration raise the chances Congress will pass common-sense immigration reform and boost his party’s standing on an issue of growing importance to voters.

Senate politics and procedure may push new enforcement measures into a broader bill next year. But the House could enact some new border security measures sooner, demonstrating that no immigration proposal can pass without first adopting tough, new enforcement policies.

Behind the scenes Congress is a beehive of activity, with a broad ideological spectrum of lawmakers trying to produce legislative honey. Mr. DeLay recently reminded his colleagues that the House has already passed a variety of measures, largely unreported in the press, that toughen immigration security and add resources for enforcement as part fiscal 2006 Homeland Security and State Department Appropriations bills. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is actively involved, along with Mr. DeLay, in packaging some of these measures as well as new initiatives consideration this fall. On the Senate side, a diverse but potent group, including Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas, has joined forces, as have Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Arizona’s senior senator, John McCain, offering two competing versions of reform.

Activities in the states are also grabbing the attention of Washington. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano’s and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s recent decisions declaring states of emergency caused by problems along their borders underscores why Congress should address enforcement measures before tackling broader immigration reform.

Mark Kirkorian, writing recently in the National Review Online, argues that many of the Democratic Party’s key constituents — including organized labor, environmentalists and the ACLU — have traditionally resisted tougher stances on immigration. “… the immutable value of open immigration means the Democratic establishment is literally incapable of following through on rhetoric about tightening the border,” Mr. Krikorian writes. He’s probably right.

Republicans, on the other hand, have built credibility on tougher security policies, ranging from passing the REAL ID and Patriot Acts to creating the Homeland Security agencies, a congressional oversight committee and new expanded funding this year in the appropriations process. Crafting tougher border security measures and cracking down on illegal immigrants is an important thread in the embroidery of keeping Americans safe. And the Republican Party can continue to build trust with voters by adding to this security tapestry.

Mr. DeLay is no medical doctor, but he correctly diagnosed the cure for this growing issue in Congress. Lawmakers and Americans need reassurances that before out-of-control borders create further problems for the body politic, the political class will get serious about relieving the pressure. The majority leader has the proper prescription.

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