Friday, September 15, 2006

The House takes action (or so it seems)

On Thursday, the House approved the Secure Fence Act of 2006 with 283 votes for and 138 votes against (You can see how your representative voted here.) The bill mandates the erection of 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the 2,000-mile border that now has about 75 miles of fencing.

The bill passed Thursday doesn't include money for the fence and it's not clear how it will be paid for. The majority party said it will cost more than $2 billion and it will be included in a later appropriations bill. The minority party estimated it will cost $7 billion. But in the recent months of political showmanship, does it matter if the thing actually gets built? One of the original sponsors of the bill, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. says the bill was needed to show Americans "we can take meaningful action to secure the border." Showing is more important than doing after all... Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. said as much: "This is nothing more than political gamesmanship in the run-up to the midterm elections. Sounds good. Does nothing."

At a press conference, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) added "Republicans believe we can have a no-penetration border. If we build [the fence], they will no longer come illegally." Instead of coming illegally, would-be immigrants will die trying. A recent Government Accountability Office report showed that governmental efforts have not prevented deaths of immigrants who are now crossing in more dangerous regions along the border. More fencing will only push desperate border crossers to more desperate measures.

Another interesting aspect of the bill pertains to Border Enforcement Officers authority to stop fleeing vehicles at the border. Could this be in direct response to the recent deaths in Arizona? Could the House be anticipating possible lawsuits similar to the recent conviction of two officers who shot a Mexican man in the back in February?

Republican party members in the Senate weren't sure what to think of the Secure Fence Act. Senator Mel Martinez who co-wrote the Senate bill said "I'm not going to take a position against it. [The House bill is] not comprehensive immigration reform: it's just security."

Critics of the bill see it as political strategy. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) said "I think it's sad when House leadership has sought to take an important issue and turn it into a political platform." Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) accused House Republicans of using immigration as a scare tactic, confusing terrorists with immigrants so that Americans would think that "Osama bin Laden is heading north in a sombrero."

On Thursday, House leaders also unveiled other border security bills addressing immigrant gangs, speedier deportations and other issues they plan to consider.

ACTION STEP: E-mail your representative and tell him/her to stop making a show in Washington and do something about real immigration reform that creates a path for the 12 million undocumented people in this country to come out of the shadows and gain a legal status.