- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2015

Republicans are about to face another immigration fight within their own ranks after conservatives rebelled this week against a border security bill, saying it’s a fig leaf that doesn’t tackle any of the issues surrounding President Obama’s lax enforcement of immigration laws.

The border bill demands that the Obama administration complete the 700 miles of fencing it promised on the U.S.-Mexico border and come up with a strategy to stop 100 percent of smuggling and illegal immigration attempts. The bill cleared the House Homeland Security Committee late Wednesday and is slated for a vote in the full House next week.

Republican leaders say the bill is part of a full-court press designed to push the administration to enforce laws and, in some cases, to take key decisions out of the hands of political appointees at the Homeland Security Department. Indeed, the bill would bar appointees who miss the security targets from traveling on government jets or attending conferences.

But a growing rebellion from immigration enforcement advocates and some conservatives in Congress could derail those plans. The opponents argue that the bill doesn’t go far enough because it deals only with the border and leaves too much decision-making in the hands of Mr. Obama’s lieutenants.

“Where is the outrage from Congress?” said a letter from Kenneth Palinkas, president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, the labor union that represents officers who will be assigned to approve amnesty applications. He said the legislation doesn’t close loopholes immigrants use to enter the country illegally.

“It’s not border security if anyone can recite the magic words and get waved right on in,” he said.

Republican leaders aren’t likely to get much support for the bill from Democrats, who unanimously voted against it in the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, so they will need to keep defections from their own party to a minimum to get the bill passed.

The bill’s sponsor is Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, who said he dealt with all the issues he could under his committee’s jurisdiction. Issues that cover interior enforcement or broad immigration policy belong to the House Judiciary Committee, headed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.

Mr. McCaul and Mr. Goodlatte issued a joint statement Thursday assuring colleagues that the House will tackle all of the other issues in due time.

“House Republicans are taking a step-by-step approach to deliver on these long-overdue promises made to the American people so that we gain operational control of our borders and guarantee that our immigration laws will be enforced moving forward,” the two Republicans said. “The Secure Our Borders First Act is the first step and will move our nation closer to gaining control of our borders so that we thwart national security threats and stop illegal border crossers from coming to the U.S.”

Illegal crossings of the southern border have increased in each of the past few years, and the summer surge of Central Americans exposed massive flaws in the U.S. system.

Most of the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants were processed and released into the U.S. on the condition that they return for deportation hearings, which often has proved to be futile.

Mr. Obama requested billions of dollars to house the immigrants, pay for lawyers to help them argue their deportation cases and help Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala try to keep their citizens from leaving. Congress never approved the funding.

The surge peaked in June and then dissipated, though illegal immigration from Central America has begun to tick up again over the past couple of months.

Mr. McCaul’s bill includes a range of technology, including a minimum number of hours of drone flights along the border and new access roads for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

It also calls for an additional 48 miles of fencing so the full 700 miles envisioned in the 2006 Secure Fence Act would be built. That provision was added in an amendment Wednesday.

Republican senators introduced a similar bill in their chamber. Sponsors included Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican.

Democrats hinted that Mr. Obama could veto the bill.

The president has vowed to veto another bill, the 2015 homeland security funding legislation, because it contains provisions canceling his 2012 and 2014 deportation amnesties. That bill cleared the House without a single Democrat’s support and is awaiting action in the Senate, where Republican leaders have raised doubts that they can win the fight and are searching for an alternative.

The McCaul bill could become part of the backup plan, though the conservative opposition suggests that it won’t appease those who believe their leaders should be fighting harder.

“If Congress learned anything from last year’s ongoing border disaster, it should be that border security cannot be achieved unless immigration agents are permitted to do their jobs and our laws are actually being enforced,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. “A nation cannot control its borders if being caught violating those borders does not result in one’s swift return home.”

He said stopping illegal immigration requires detention of all border violators, a mandatory system for employers to check the legality of job applicants and expedited deportations.

Those areas are outside of Mr. McCaul’s jurisdiction, but Mr. Goodlatte’s committee dealt with many of them in the previous Congress and is likely to do so again this year.

The Republican border bill is tougher than a version Mr. McCaul wrote and passed through his committee in the previous Congress.

That version pushed the Homeland Security Department to come up with a plan to secure the border but lacked any of the specific provisions in the latest bill, such as drone flights and fencing.

Democrats liked the old bill so much that they included it as part of their comprehensive immigration legalization legislation in 2013. Democrats pleaded with Republicans to discard the latest bill and return to the weaker version.

“Republicans took what was a bipartisan bill in the 113th Congress and have now transformed it into a partisan one, which militarizes our southwestern border and denies Homeland Security officials the flexibility required to address existing and new challenges along that border, while doing nothing to improve security in other border areas,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House.

As strong as the bill is, it lacks some border security provisions that passed the Senate in 2013 as part of that chamber’s bipartisan comprehensive legalization measure.

The Senate bill added 20,000 Border Patrol agents to the southwestern border and called for 350 more miles of fencing. Adding those provisions persuaded 14 Republicans to join 54 Democrats in passing the broader bill, which legalized most illegal immigrants and put them on a long-term path to citizenship.


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