(by Charles Hurt, WashingtonTimes.com) – The Senate, which has been the major obstacle to strict
border-security legislation this year, will take up a bill this week
that calls for constructing 700 more miles of fencing along the
“It’s time to secure the border with
Mexico,” Majority Leader Bill Frist said last night before filing the
parliamentary motions to force the House-passed bill onto the Senate
floor in a final effort to get a major immigration bill on the
president’s desk before the elections.
Jim Manley, a spokesman
for Minority Leader Harry Reid, said the move “smacks of desperation”
and was a “clear repudiation of President Bush’s call for comprehensive
The Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was easily
approved by the House last week, contains none of the “comprehensive”
measures that President Bush, Democrats and some Senate Republicans
have demanded. Those include provisions to grant citizenship rights to
about 10 million illegal aliens living in the country and a
guest-worker program that would usher hundreds of thousands more
foreign laborers into the U.S.
“Mr. Frist was for comprehensive reform before he was against it,” Mr. Manley said.
On the Senate floor last night, Mr. Frist said he still supports
comprehensive immigration reform legislation. But, he said, because no
consensus can now be reached on other issues, Congress should move
ahead with border security. It’s not “enforcement only,” he said, but
“Border security is the essential first
step of any effort to enact immigration reform,” Mr. Frist said. “Only
when we have convinced the American people of our commitment to
securing our borders will we be able to reach a consensus on
comprehensive immigration reform.”
The last time the Senate
considered a border-security-only bill, the measure failed, with all
but two Democrats and 20 Republicans refusing even to debate it. Since
then, several Republicans bent on comprehensive reform have told The
Washington Times that they would now consider legislation that dealt
only with stopping the flow of illegal aliens into the country.
Among the most adamant supporters of comprehensive reform have been
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina, who helped form a coalition earlier this year to derail any
legislation that failed to grant broad citizenship rights to illegals
and create a guest-worker program. The group of Republican defectors
also included Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia.
Mr. McCain, Mr.
Warner and Mr. Graham also have bolted party leadership by opposing Mr.
Bush’s proposed legislation for handling the terror suspects held at
Guantanamo Bay. The specter of a showdown this week over both the
Guantanamo detainees and immigration had some Republican staffers on
Capitol Hill wondering whether the trio could wage a two-front battle
against their own party during an election season in which control of
both chambers is in question.
By filing last night a cloture
motion that will limit debate and let the Senate vote on the bill, Mr.
Frist hopes to get the measure to the floor by week’s end. If Democrats
stall, they could push the debate well into next week. And if, as is
expected, Mr. Frist introduces the bill so that amendments cannot be
offered, the battle in the Senate likely will take even longer and
could end in yet another stalemate.
But the House’s approval
of the bill suggests that Mr. Frist might see some converts on both
sides of the aisle in favor of a bill that deals only with border
When the House last year approved its
border-security legislation, it included almost exactly the same
fencing provisions. The fence came to symbolize what many Democrats
said was an unforgiving bill. They said the fence proved that
Republicans harbored a hostility toward immigrants.
week, the stand-alone fence bill was approved 283-138, with support
from more than 20 Democrats and a handful of Republicans who dropped
opposition to the earlier fence proposal.
Democrats are adamantly opposed to the fence bill, calling it a new
“Berlin Wall” and an election-year “gimmick” intended to portray them
as weak on security measures. In addition, internal Republican polling
has found that immigration is as powerful a motivator for voters as any
issue with which Congress is grappling.
“They’re obviously done with legislating for the year,” Mr. Manley said. “Now, they’re just playing to their base.”
If approved by the Senate before month’s end, the bill would reach President Bush’s desk before the November elections.
In addition to building double-layered fences along 700 miles of the
southern border, the Secure Fence Act also calls for changing Border
Patrol policy to allow agents to forcibly disable fleeing vehicles
along the border. The measure also would deploy cameras, ground sensors
and unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor the border.
border-security package, coupled with the increased appropriations for
border security, will have a real impact on our homeland security and
is a vital step forward toward fixing the problem of illegal
immigration,” Majority Whip Mitch McConnell said yesterday.
“We’ve added thousands of new Border Patrol agents and nearly 10,000
new detention beds and hundreds of miles of fencing along the border.
But this legislation will take us much closer to the operational
control of our border that our homeland security requires and provide
law enforcement with the tools they need to get the job done,” the
Kentucky Republican said.
Copyright 2006 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted
with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not
constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product,
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The U.S.-Mexico border is approximately 1,900 miles long. How many
miles of fencing would the Secure Fence Act of 2006 authorize to be
built? (For information on the U.S.-Mexico border, go to Wikipedia.org.)
2. List the
“comprehensive” measures that President Bush, Democrats and some Senate
Republicans have called for to be included in any immigration bill.
3. What happened the last time the Senate considered a border-security-only bill?
4. What was the final vote for the Secure Fence Act in the House of Representatives last week? (To see how your Representatives voted, click here.)
5. What provisions are included in the Secure Fence Act?
6. Until now,
the Republican-led Senate has blocked any legislation that included
only border-security. Why do you think this has changed?
7. OPTIONAL: Contact your Senators and tell them whether you’d like them to vote for or against the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
To find your Senator’s phone number, go to Senate.gov.
Senators are listed in alphabetical order. Choose your Senators’
websites and go to the “contact us” link for the phone number or email
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