By Kevin Mooney
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
August 17, 2006
(CNSNews.com) - Key provisions of the border security bill passed by the U.S. Senate are "meaningless" according to the House Judiciary Committee, which is holding a field hearing on the bill in El Paso, Texas, Thursday. Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) warns that the Senate is trying to "cede control" of the country's southern border security to the Mexican government.
The Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act (H.R. 4437) has already passed the House of Representatives but has not been reconciled with the competing Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
The House bill directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to "construct double-layered and reinforced fencing and additional barriers, roads, lighting, camera and sensors along designated stretches of the southern border which are the major points of current illegal border crossing."
The proposal includes 72 miles of fence in California, 342 miles in Arizona, 70 miles in New Mexico, including the border area just west of El Paso, Texas, and 370 miles of fencing in Texas.
Conversely, the Senate bill authorizes only 370 total miles of fencing and makes construction of any fences conditional upon consultation with the Mexican government.
A statement issued by Sensenbrenner's office indicates that the committee is particularly displeased with that part of the Senate's proposal.
"Mexico is unlikely to provide its approval for new fences because its political leaders have made it a top priority to stop any more fence construction," the committee statement said. "Consequently, the Senate's fence provisions become meaningless, and an important precedent [would be] established to cede control of security on the Southwest border to Mexico."
The House committee is also concerned that the Senate bill would inhibit local sheriffs and police departments that want to help enforce immigration laws. Local law enforcement officials operating along the Mexican border strongly object to the proposed restrictions and have told other members of congress that such provisions would undermine security.
Rep. Edward Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation, recalled that it was local law enforcement officials who stopped four of the 19 hijackers for speeding prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"All four terrorists could have been arrested if the officers ... realized that they were here illegally," Royce told Cybercast News Service in an email.
Royce also warned that the Senate bill could discourage local police from detaining aliens who have remained in the country illegally after their visas have expired.
"Afraid of being blamed for making a wrongful arrest and getting sued, many law enforcement agencies may stop helping the federal government enforce immigration laws altogether," Royce added. "Instead of tying the hands of local law enforcement, we should be encouraging them to cooperate with immigration officials to help enforce our immigration laws."
Sheriff Leo Samaniego of El Paso County, Texas, will testify at Thursday's hearing. He told Cybercast News Service that the border can be protected if enough personnel and resources are deployed.
"Can we secure the border?" Samaniego asked, rhetorically. "You betcha!"
"Operation Linebacker" is a prime example, Samaniego said, of how local law enforcement agencies can work together to support the federal government border enforcement efforts. The program allows sheriffs to hire additional personnel to target illegal aliens who get past the U.S. Border Patrol.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry secured grant funding for Operation Linebacker which resulted in more resources for sheriffs operating along the border. Although it has only been active for a few months, the operation has resulted in a dramatic reduction in criminal activity in participating counties.
Samaniego estimates that the $100 million-a-year for border county law enforcement agencies in the House bill would be sufficient to fund initiatives like Operation Linebacker all along the southern U.S. border. The Senate bill is problematic, he says, because it would only provide about $50 million.
Moreover, the Senate's funding would be available to any community within 100 miles of the Mexican or Canadian borders. That feature would "dilute" the impact of bill, Samaniego said, because the funding would be allocated to so many agencies."