The labor union for the nation’s Border Patrol agents announced their opposition Friday to the House GOP’s new border security bill, calling it “window dressing” and adding further obstacles to Republican leaders who had hoped to pass the bill in a vote this Wednesday.
The legislation would build additional fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and would give Department of Homeland Security officials a five-year window to devise a strategy to prevent 100 percent of illegal border crossings and smuggling attempts. But the National Border Patrol Council, which represents line agents, said the bill doesn’t add any new agents, nor does it update their training or firepower, which means it won’t improve the situation.
“This legislation speaks about metrics but frankly does not provide either the strategy or the resources necessary to achieve them,” said Shawn Moran, spokesman for the union. “We need real solutions on the border, where the trends are moving in the wrong direction, with increased apprehensions, more aggressive action from smugglers and drug cartels and continued threats from terrorists.”
The agents’ opposition is a severe blow to GOP leaders, because it will add fuel to conservatives’ belief that the border bill doesn’t go far enough to solve the situation. Republican leaders need near-unanimity within their own ranks because they won’t be able to count on Democratic support to pass their bill.
GOP leaders are still planning for a Wednesday vote but may have to rethink that schedule or make changes to the legislation to assuage conservatives.
Written by House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, the bill would direct the Department of Homeland Security to build about 50 miles of additional fencing, fly more drones and add more technology sector by sector along the border and come up with a strategy for catching every single illegal immigrant or smuggler trying to cross high-risk zones within two years and for the entire southwest border within five years.
The Border Patrol union says the bill needs to be more specific in calling for an additional 5,000 agents on the southwest border — there are about 20,000 now — updating their training to a 20-week course and acquiring more M4 rifles and other gear so they can operate out in the field.
The border debate comes at a time when the numbers signal an increase in illegal immigration. After dropping dramatically from 2006 through 2011, as the U.S. economy soured, illegal crossings on the southern border rose nearly 50 percent from 2011 to 2014, judging by apprehension statistics.
Most strikingly, the Obama administration was caught off-guard last summer by a surge of illegal immigrants from Central America, who overwhelmed the immigration services and exposed serious loopholes in U.S. policy.
Mr. Obama, however, contends the border is secure and getting safer. His Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, issued a statement last week blasting the McCaul bill, saying it went too far in requiring certain actions. Mr. Johnson said instead of setting new goals and requiring more fencing, Congress should give his department more money so it can pursue its own strategy.
“The bill does nothing to provide what the Department of Homeland Security really needs from Congress — appropriated funding to pay for vital homeland security initiatives,” he said.
Part of Congress’ frustration with Mr. Johnson is that his department has been operating for five years without a measure of border security. The department scrapped the old yardstick of number of miles under “operational control” in 2010 and promised a replacement years ago, but still has yet to offer one.
Mr. McCaul’s bill would force the department to meet a 100-percent standard, and it would punish top political appointees at the department by denying them the ability to attend conferences or fly on government aircraft for all but the most essential trips if they don’t meet the schedule imposed in the legislation.
The bill also would give Border Patrol agents unfettered access to federal lands — solving a problem the agents have raised for years, arguing they often have to fight with the parks or forest services over building towers or responding to illegal immigrant incursions.
Mr. McCaul says his bill is a first step, and GOP leaders have promised to tackle bigger immigration policy questions later this year, saying they want to take immigration overhaul step by step.
“The bill matches resources to needs, putting fencing where fencing is needed and technology where technology is needed. My constituents in my home district and my home state of Texas spoke loud and clear: They want the border secured,” Mr. McCaul said.
His bill cleared his committee on a party-line vote last Wednesday.
But the border agents’ opposition will hurt — and it’s just the latest dent to the bill.
Earlier last week the labor union for immigration officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, one of the other immigration agencies, said the bill needs to make it tougher to claim asylum and needs to end the “catch-and-release” type of policies that allowed most of the illegal immigrants in last summer’s Central American wave to be released into the U.S., where many have since disappeared into the shadows.