Everyone can agree that securing our nation's borders isn't simply a matter of controlling the flow of illegal immigration; it's also a matter of national security.That's why just last month, the Senate overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 95 to 1 a measure to the defense spending bill that provides over $3 billion in resources to help secure our borders.
Yet, last week, Congressional Democrats stripped that funding from the bill. And under Senate procedures, there was no realistic way of reinstating the money or defeating the bill, because it provided all the critical funding for the U.S. military for the fiscal year that had already begun.
It amazes me that folks go around talking about the need to secure our border, vote to do so (when the country is watching), but then quietly go back on their commitment, hoping no one notices.It's no wonder that Americans have no faith that the government has the will to secure the border.
Had this money been approved, the $3 billion would have provided funding to bring the total number of full-time Border Patrol agents to 23,000; construction of 700 miles of border fencing by the end of FY 2009; 300 miles of vehicle barriers; 105 ground-based radar and camera towers; building or leasing enough jail space to house 45,000 illegal immigrants; funding to reimburse states and localities for certain expenses defined under the Immigration and Nationality Act; and requiring that $60 million be dedicated to states to help employers comply with employee verification requirements.
In short, the $3 billion provided crucial funding for border security and would have continued critical progress we've made over the last couple of years. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff just reported on the situation.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has now completed more than 150 miles of fencing and 115 miles of vehicle barriers on the southwest border, with plans to build an additional 225 miles of fencing and 200 miles of vehicle barriers by the end of 2008.
Border Patrol agents are increased to roughly 15,000 agents and should get to more than 18,300 agents by the end of 2008.
Under Operation Jump Start, the National Guard continues to support the Border Patrol in a very effective partnership. According to DHS, the National Guard has specifically assisted in apprehending nearly 124,000 illegal aliens and seizing more than 900 vehicles, 250,000 pounds of marijuana, nearly 5,000 pounds of cocaine, and more than $68,000 in currency since the beginning of the operation.
As a result of this increased effort, fewer people are attempting to cross the border illegally -- apprehensions of illegal aliens at the southern border are down 22 percent.
While I am encouraged by the progress we have made, we still need the $3 billion, so Republicans are going to try to include it in another bill. The problem is that the President has threatened to veto that bill, because it is $4 billion over budget. So we would be in another "Catch 22" situation: either accept the wasteful over-budget spending or do without the border security funding.
Such are the political games played in Washington. It is no wonder that Congress's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low.
At least voters now have less than a year to wait to register their views at the polls and ponder whether the great change promised in last year's election was in the right direction.