Thursday, October 5, 2006

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The House’s top immigration negotiator says the House won the first round in the debate over the issue, and he is on a “victory tour” of the Southwest border states to drive that message home.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and primary author of the House’s immigration-enforcement bill, said that by getting the president to sign a funding bill that included a down payment on the border fence and other enforcement measures, the House position on enforcement first has prevailed.

“I want the American public to know that we won on this, and the House Republicans were able to not only pass, but fund important border security measures,” the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said.

The Mexican government this week sent a diplomatic note to Washington criticizing the plan for 700 miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez called it an “offense” and said Wednesday that his office was considering taking the issue to the United Nations.

But Ruben Aguilar, a spokesman for outgoing President Vicente Fox, said yesterday that Mexico had ruled out that possibility. He added that he was “confident” the additional fencing would never become a reality because an immigration accord eventually would replace it.

President-elect Felipe Calderon yesterday criticized the U.S. plan but said the case is a bilateral issue that should not be taken to any international organization.

“I think it is a deplorable decision that has been made by the United States Congress for the construction of this wall, and it does not solve our common problem, which is emigration,” Mr. Calderon said.

The House and Senate had been deadlocked all year over whether to pass immigration enforcement legislation, as the House wanted, or a broader bill that also legalized most undocumented aliens and created a temporary-worker program.

Congress adjourned last week having passed a bill to build the border fence and a funding measure that includes the first down payment for that fence, as well as money for an additional 1,500 Border Patrol agents and 6,700 new detention beds to hold illegal aliens awaiting deportation.

That, Mr. Sensenbrenner said, was a victory for the House. He held a press conference here yesterday at a technology company’s headquarters to drive home provisions the increased funding for technology in the bill. On Wednesday, he was in San Diego at the site of a drug-smuggling tunnel that had run under the border. The funding bill also established stiff prison time for tunneling under the border.

President Bush signed the spending bill in Scottsdale on Wednesday.

“It’s what the people of this country want — they want to know that we’re modernizing the border so we can better secure the border,” he said as he signed the bill.

The president has yet to sign the 700-mile fence bill, though he has said he will do so.

Some lawmakers said they don’t know whether the fence will ever be funded.

Sen John Cornyn, Texas Republican, told reporters this week that the fence bill was a symbol of Congress’ commitment to enforcement, but that he wasn’t sure the rest of the money would be forthcoming.

“It’s one thing to authorize. It’s another thing to actually appropriate the money and do it,” he said, according to reports.

But Mr. Sensenbrenner said that was misguided.

He pointed out that spending bills start in the House, not the Senate, and urged Mr. Cornyn to work with the House to get the funding done.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports

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