- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

Border security prevailed in the first major skirmish on immigration since President Bush’s broad guest-worker bill collapsed last month.

The Senate yesterday passed $3 billion in emergency spending for immigration and border enforcement, adding it to the 2008 homeland security spending bill, while the House late Wednesday passed a measure that would free two U.S. Border Patrol agents serving time for shooting a fleeing illegal-alien drug trafficker in the buttocks.

“The Senate demonstrated today that it overwhelmingly supports tough border security, and we hope the president shows us he shares our concern by dropping his irresponsible threat to veto the homeland security spending bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Mr. Bush’s immigration bill, negotiated with a select group of Republican and Democratic senators, failed last month in a filibuster joined by a majority of the Senate. In its wake, both parties rush to fill the void with piecemeal measures, such as increased enforcement, a new guest-worker program for agriculture workers and a legalization program for illegal-alien college students.

Yesterday’s $3 billion amendment pays for high-tech border surveillance and thousands more border agents over the next five years.

It passed 89-1, with Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, casting the sole opposing vote. Mr. Voinovich said he supports increased border security but refused to “burden our children and grandchildren with another $3 billion of debt.”

But for most Republicans, adding the border-security money makes the bill more attractive and could entice them to stand up to Mr. Bush’s veto threat.

“I think it is safe to say on the issue of border security, Senate Republicans have not been pleased with the administration’s progress and are not particularly reluctant to have a vigorous discussion with the administration about the appropriateness of adequately funding border security,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

The White House said it is open to the new border-spending amendment.

“We want to take a thorough look at the entire proposal, but to the extent Congress supports additional emergency funding we want to make sure it’s spent on the highest-priority border-security measures,” said spokesman Scott Stanzel.

Late last night the Senate adopted the entire bill, which totals more than $40 billion, on an 89-4 vote. The bill still must go to a conference committee to be reconciled with the House version.

Mr. Stanzel said the administration still threatens to veto the entire bill over its total cost, which is $1.8 billion more than what Mr. Bush called for. Most of that difference comes in the form of grants to states and localities.

Mr. Bush wants grants to total $2.2 billion, the Senate has called for $4 billion and the House passed $4.2 billion in grants. Fiscal 2007 grants totaled $3.4 billion, and the Bush administration says there is $5 billion in unspent grant money for states and localities still in the pipeline.

Yesterday’s security vote was a reversal from Wednesday, when Senate Democrats used a procedural vote to block a broader border-spending measure and then fought with Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, over how to reach a compromise.

Mr. Reid yesterday called his disagreement with Mr. Cornyn “a tantrum” and admitted he “was wrong, and Senator Cornyn was right. I hate to acknowledge that, but that’s basically valid.”

Mr. Reid struck an agreement with Mr. Cornyn to revive the spending amendment after stripping provisions that would have streamlined deportation of illegal aliens who commit other crimes. Another removed provision would have barred states and localities from preventing their employees from telling the federal government of suspected illegal aliens.

Meanwhile on Wednesday night, the House adopted an amendment that would prevent any money spent to keep two Border Patrol agents in prison. The measure, which passed by voice vote, would free Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, two agents serving sentences of more than 10 years each.

“We sent a clear message to the administration to put the pressure back on criminals who smuggle drugs across our border rather than the people who protect us from them,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican and presidential hopeful who offered the amendment.

While unusual, Mr. Tancredo said the move is similar to bills Congress pass to curb the jurisdiction of courts to hear certain cases.

Mr. Bush faces increasing pressure from Democrats and Republicans to help the two agents since he commuted the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, preventing Libby from spending any time in jail. But Mr. Bush has shown no inclination he will issue a pardon, and at a town hall forum in Tennessee last week, said he trusts the federal prosecutor.

“I know this is an emotional issue, but people need to look at the facts. These men were convicted by a jury of their peers after listening to the facts as my friend, Johnny Sutton, presented them,” Mr. Bush said.



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