Included in the Defense Appropriation bill passed by the Senate on October 3rd is $3 billion in emergency funding that will significantly upgrade security along the U.S./Mexican border.
Between 2008 and 2012, this funding would authorize the hiring of up to 35,000 border enforcement agents, investigators, U.S. marshals and other personnel to protect our border.
It would fund the purchase of equipment like unmanned aerial vehicles, 300 miles of vehicle barriers and 700 miles of border fencing – all of which should be deployed as soon as possible.
As you know, I had hoped to pass a broader immigration reform bill this year. I saw the July immigration debate as an opportunity, not necessarily to get an ideal border security plan in place, but as a foundation on which to build Senate support for stronger border security than we now have.
Extremes on the political right and left prematurely killed it, and the immigration reform bill never made it to the Senate floor for full consideration.
Left without federal leadership and support, many states and localities have begun enacting their own border enforcement measures.
That’s good and bad. It’s good in that we’re moving toward stronger security. It’s bad because we’ll end up with inconsistent enforcement, and could lead to illegal aliens migrating to smaller communities with fewer resources to implement stricter local border enforcement.
Clearly Congress should stop shirking its responsibility and produce border security legislation. If we must do it piecemeal, then let’s start where there is consensus.
Most Americans rightly believe our border is too porous. We must again gain control of our border and know who’s coming across. Liberals and conservatives alike should find common ground on these points. To that end, the Senate-passed proposal is intended to gain operational control of 100 percent of the U.S./Mexico land border by employing new agents and other personnel and equipment resources. It would mandate a permanent end to the “catch and release” policy by providing more than 45,000 detention beds to hold illegal aliens when they’re apprehended.
It would increase penalties for illegals who are criminals or who reenter after a deportation, and it would reinforce and encourage local governments by providing reimbursements to those who cooperate with Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents.
To track aliens applying for employment here, the bill would enable the Department of Homeland Security to provide employers with the capability of confirming a potential employee’s identity. This cross reference will help identify illegal aliens using fake identification.
Is this enough to fix America’s border problem? Of course not, but it’s an initial step, and a long-overdue one.
Washington must increase and step up its role in border security. This is protection Americans demand and deserve. We are the richest, most powerful and technologically-advanced nation on earth. Appropriating $3 billion to better secure our border is an initial step that can be taken easily, if we’ll just do it.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email