House Republicans announced new legislation Thursday to try to solve the Biden border surge and stem future waves of illegal immigration, including restarting construction on former President Donald Trump’s border wall and hiring more officers and agents to guard the boundary.
The bill would bolster federal-state partnerships on border security, sending more than $100 million a year to police departments to help defray collateral costs for states on the borders with Canada and Mexico.
Led by Rep. John Katko of New York, House Republicans’ point-man on homeland security issues, the bill would restart wall construction immediately and ban the Biden administration from canceling contracts or siphoning off money Congress has allocated to border barriers. And the bill calls for heavy investments in technology.
Republicans said they are trying to restore the approach that was working under the Trump administration but which was punctured by the new Biden team.
“From finishing the border wall system to modernizing technology and bolstering border staffing, this legislation tackles key shortcomings and weaknesses we’ve seen for ourselves that are fueling the border crisis,” Mr. Katko said.
The bill marks Republicans’ ante as Congress flirts with a new debate over immigration and legalizing some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.
While some Republicans have said they’re willing to work on legalization, the party’s leaders have said any amnesty must be coupled with better border security.
Those concerns are particularly acute now, with the southern border seeing the worst overall numbers in 21 years.
Border Patrol agents say labor, infrastructure and technology are the three critical elements to securing the border — along with the will to enforce laws on the books.
Mr. Katko’s bill checks all those boxes.
It not only would restart wall construction but also would call for development of new fencing, as well as drones and sensors, to give agents better awareness of what’s coming across.
The Border Patrol would be required to field at least 22,478 agents, or more than 1,000 over the current funding, and about 3,000 more agents than are currently employed. The agency has faced a major hiring problem in recent years, so the legislation would offer more flexibility in issuing waivers to get new personnel signed up.
And to help with willpower, the Border Patrol would be required to issue a strategic plan every five years laying out the expected challenges, and gaps in its own enforcement posture.
The legislation would require that at least 50 new officers be added to teams tasked with spotting and shutting down smuggling tunnels built under the border.