The U.S. House on Tuesday, Aug. 10, approved legislation authorizing $600 million in federal funding to beef up security along the U.S.-Mexico border, including an additional 1,000 U.S. Border Patrol officers.
The bill goes back to the U.S. Senate for final approval. President Obama is expected to sign the measure.
Passage of the bill comes as drug violence continues to plague the U.S. border with Texas. Gov. Rick Perry said in a letter to Obama that the drug war has claimed about 28,000 lives in northern Mexico since 2006. Texas shares about 1,200 miles of border with Mexico—more than any other state.
“Strengthening border security is one of the central pillars of bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, and I hope Democrats and Republicans will use today’s progress as a building block for comprehensive reform,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Aside from $176 million for new Border Patrol agents in the Southwest, the bill includes:
• $80 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hire more than 250 special agents, investigators, intelligence analysts and support staff, and for ICE activities directed at reducing drug smuggling and related violence.
• $68 million to hire 250 more Customs and Border Protection officers along the U.S.-Mexico border and retain another 270 officers.
• $37.5 million for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ Project Gunrunner, which targets firearms trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border, and to boost the bureau’s capacity to trace firearms connected with border crimes.
• $33.7 million for investigations, intelligence, surveillance and other activities to help the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency put a dent in major drug trafficking organizations along the U.S.-Mexico border.
• $32 million to buy two unmanned “drones” to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border in search of illegal immigrants.
The border security measure will be paid for primarily through a five-year increase in fees for two visas that permit foreigners to work in the United States.
U.S. Rep. David Price, a North Carolina Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said:
“This bill addresses the urgent need for enhanced security on our Southwest border. Violence on the Mexican side of the border has intensified because of turf battles murderous [among] transnational criminal organizations competing for drug, alien and weapon trafficking business. We need these new officers trained and ready to ensure there is not an enforcement gap as the National Guard troops recently deployed to the border leave.”
Price sponsored the border security bill. Co-sponsors included six Democratic congressmen from Texas: Reps. Henry Cuellar, Chet Edwards, Ruben Hinjosa, Solomon Ortiz, Silvestre Reyes and Ciro Rodriguez.
Hinojosa said: “These are perilous times for our neighbors to the south. And while Mexico is experiencing high incidents of violence, we must be alert and prepared from the federal, state and local level to protect our border.”
Of course, the border security funding package does have its opponents.
Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice, called the measure “a cheap substitute for real reform.”
“Since 2002, we have more than doubled the amount of money we’re spending on immigration enforcement, but we still have millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.,” Tramonte said. “When will our leaders in Washington own up to the fact that we cannot solve this problem by deporting people?”
Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, an immigration reform advocacy group, echoed Tramonte’s sentiments.
“Republicans have falsely and in bad faith used border security to whip up their base in the run up to the fall elections. They’ve blocked real reform and are demanding an endless and fruitless focus on pure enforcement,” Bhargava said.
“Unfortunately, Democrats have taken the bait and fallen into the trap.”
August 10, 2010
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