- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Senate yesterday voted to build at least 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and agreed — after weeks of strained negotiations — to bar convicted felons from gaining citizenship.

“We are sending a signal that we are serious about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants over the border,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who wrote the fencing amendment. “The construction of more fencing and vehicle barriers will greatly enhance border enforcement, and it will pay for itself many, many times over.”

But Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and author of a much-tougher House bill that calls for almost twice as much fencing, was less optimistic yesterday.

Responding to President Bush’s prime-time speech this week on his plans for immigration reform, Mr. Sensenbrenner said Mr. Bush had “basically turned his back” on tough border-security legislation after encouraging the House to pass it last year.

“Regardless of what the president says, what he is proposing is amnesty,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said yesterday.

Other House Republicans also warned Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans that their party will pay a political price this fall for the plan to give most of the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. the right to citizenship.

“We are under an invasion,” said Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., Virginia Republican, who supports the fence as well as penalties for employers who hire illegals.

Although the Senate appears almost certain to approve a bill that grants citizenship rights to illegal aliens, conservatives managed for a second day yesterday to edge the bill to the right.

In addition to at least 370 miles of “triple-wire” fencing in areas that the secretary of homeland security determines to be high traffic for crossers, the Sessions amendment provides for 500 miles of vehicle barriers.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” said Mr. Sessions, who pointed to San Diego as an example of proper fencing.

“There was lawlessness, drug dealing, gangs and economic depression on both sides of the border,” he said. “But when they built a fence and brought that section of the border under control, the economy on both sides of the fence blossomed and crime fell.”

Only 15 Democrats and the chamber’s one independent opposed the measure.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who was the only person to argue against the proposal on the floor yesterday, worried that it would cost too much. The San Diego fence, he noted, wound up being 200 percent over budget.

“The real cost ended up being $3.8 million per mile,” said Mr. Kennedy, who has been the principal backer of Boston’s “Big Dig,” a highway tunnel funded largely by the federal government that has run about $1 billion per mile.

Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas also managed to ban from citizenship any illegal aliens who have been convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors or anyone who has ignored a court order to leave the country.

Last month, negotiations over immigration reform collapsed after Minority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow consideration of the Kyl-Cornyn and other amendments. Democrats said they supported the measure yesterday after the bill’s language was softened to give illegals more leeway to protest whether they knew about their deportation orders.

The two Republicans also won approval on a 50-48 vote for a second amendment that would require foreign workers to have a job lined up before coming here. As under current law, it also would require the Department of Labor to ensure that no Americans are interested in the job before admitting the foreigner.

Three Democrats facing re-election in the fall joined 47 Republicans to support the measure.

Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, failed, however, to strip out of the bill the provisions that he and many others consider “amnesty.” That measure fell far short, losing on a 66-33 vote.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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