The House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday took an important step toward building President Donald Trump’s wall, advancing legislation containing money for the barrier, along with beefed-up border security.
The committee, on a party-line 18-12 vote, sent the Border Security for America Act of 2017 to the full House of Representatives. It has $10 billion for “tactical infrastructure,” including physical barriers where appropriate. It also provides for the hiring of 5,000 additional customs officers and 5,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents.
In addition, the legislation would spend $5 billion to improve ports of entry and would fully implement an entry-exit system to guard against people overstaying their visas. It was a reform recommended by the 9/11 Commission.
“The American people are threatened by international terrorists, human traffickers, drug smugglers, and transnational gangs like MS-13 who try to sneak into our country, bring harm to our communities, and disrupt our way of life,” committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said. “Allowing this to continue is completely unacceptable.”
McCaul said a wall in certain sections would be helpful but stressed that other security measures are just as important.
“While physical barriers and advanced technology are important parts of achieving our goal, this bill goes even further,” he said.
The wall has become a lightning rod, and committee Democrats reserved most of their scorn for that idea. Republicans beat back a number of Democratic amendments related to the wall and other provision. Those proposals included one — from Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) — to attach a detailed definition to the wall.
Vela voted against his own amendment — as did every other committee member except for Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who voted “present.” Vela said he offered it to highlight how “absurd” the wall is.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking minority member of the committee, said building a wall is the wrong approach to security.
“This bill would authorize President Trump’s wall at all costs,” he said. “It is a $15 billion boondoggle that abandons past bipartisan efforts to stop throwing money at the border in an ad hoc way in favor of strategically employing resources.”
Thompson said the ultimate cost of a wall would be far higher — perhaps as much as $70 billion. He called it a “misguided, unnecessary, fiscally irresponsible measure” that would hurt the environment and cost private property owners their land.
“There was a time in the not-too-distant past when this committee cared about facts, data and results,” he said, adding that a wall is unnecessary because “it is getting harder and harder to cross, and less people are trying.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J) also said it is a waste of money.
“There are so many things we could do with this $10 billion that would be a better use of the resources than building a border wall,” she said.
“Those are needs, but this is no good solution to illegal immigration.”
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, told LifeZette that the individual provisions of the bill would be helpful but insufficient.
“Those are needs, but this is no good solution to illegal immigration,” she said.
Vaughan said better interior enforcement, workplace inspections, and moves to shut down the incentives for illegal immigration will make a meaningful impact. She added that the entry-exit system is like déjà vu.
“It’s already been mandated at least six times in the law,” she said.
Past attempts to implement the system have failed because of a lack of funds and a lack of will by the previous administration, Vaughan said.
Although the bill figures to pass the full House, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Democrats likely will work hard to strip any provision that aids the wall project. But McCaul said he is hopeful.
“We have been talking about border security for so many years,” he said. “And now, we finally have a chance to get this done. We finally have a partner in the White House who has prioritized this issue. … So let’s work together and get this bill to the president’s desk.”
After the committee vote, McCaul said he understands the issue can be emotional. But he added that his experience as a federal prosecutor before his election to Congress taught him about the dangers of a porous border.
“I saw the threat, whether it be human drug trafficking, potential terrorists crossing, trying to cross into our sovereign nation,” he said. “And that’s why this bill is so important to me. I ran on this issue my first term in office.”
(photo credit, homepage image: Frederick Dennstedt, Flickr; photo credit, article image: pearlbear, Flickr)