As the House Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday began a full committee markup of the Secure Our Border First Act of 2015 (H.R. 399) Homeland Security Today reported was introduced this week by committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and 14 other cosponsors, a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
Described as, “The toughest border security bill ever before Congress, with real penalties for the administration for not doing their job,” the bill is designed to gain and maintain control of the nation’s land and maritime borders.
“I appreciate chairman McCaul’s efforts to put forward a bill to secure our borders,” Johnson said, “and I am happy to introduce a companion bill in the Senate with Senators Cornyn and Flake. This bill uses a sector-by-sector approach to outline capability requirements and includes a prescriptive list of required fencing and border security infrastructure. I believe this bill is an important first step toward finally securing our borders. Through committee hearings, I will build on chairman McCaul’s efforts to ensure that our final bill prescribes what is truly needed at our borders and that the Department of Homeland Security effectively implements our border security prescriptions.”
“By unilaterally going around Congress and taking executive action on immigration, the President has only exacerbated the administration’s message to the world that our laws will not be enforced. Fixing our broken immigration system starts with a strong plan that enhances border security, increases enforcement assets and speeds up legitimate trade and travel at our ports of entry,” Cornyn said, adding, “I look forward to working with Sen. Johnson and House Republicans to finally secure our porous border so we can find ways to promote the type of legal immigration that benefits our economy and our broader society.”
“Arizonans deserve a secure border, and I am pleased to support Senate introduction of the Border Security First Act, which will require that operational control of the border be attained and seek to hold those responsible for it accountable,” Flake added.
“I commend Sens. Johnson, Cornyn and Flake for introducing the companion legislation to my border security bill today,” McCaul said. “The porous state of our borders is a national security issue. For 25 years, we have waited for action on border security while human traffickers, drug cartels and potential terrorists have taken advantage of the situation at our southern, northern and maritime borders. The federal government’s number one priority under the Constitution is to provide for the common defense, but this administration has failed to do so. Now, Congress must lead.
McCaul said, “This bill is the toughest border security bill ever before Congress. It provides the administration with prescriptive measures from Congress on how to secure the border with real penalties for the administration for not doing their job. We need this legislation to protect the American people and sovereignty of this nation.”
Not all of McCaul’s colleagues agree, however. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement that, “After working across the aisle on border security legislation just last year, it is extremely unfortunate that chairman McCaul has quickly abandoned it to placate the most extreme factions of the Republican Conference.”
“To be clear,” Thompson asserted, “this new bill talks tough, but offers few solutions. It would require the federal government to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on fencing, road projects and equipment that has not been vetted or even requested – all to achieve what McCaul himself has acknowledged, time and again, is an unrealistic and unachievable standard.”
In his opening remarks at the House Homeland Security Committee’s markup of the bill, McCaul stated, “It is a fundamental responsibility of the federal government to ensure the territory of this nation is secure against any illicit entry and concealed threats, but on that account the government has failed consistently.”
“Despite billions of dollars and decades of policy debates, the border is not secure. That is a fact,” McCaul said, adding, “Illegal entries into this country continue at an astounding pace, and criminal enterprises have continued to exploit our weaknesses to get drugs, weapons, and other illicit goods into our communities.”
“Our enemies have also taken note that there is a backdoor into America,” McCaul said.
“This is a national security issue of the highest order. I’ve been working on this problem of border security for over a decade in Congress and prior to that as a federal prosecutor, and I will tell you that the American people are losing faith that we can fulfill this core responsibility,” McCaul said.
McCaul said, “The number of individuals the Border Patrol apprehended last year rose for the third time in row—to half a million. That’s just who we stopped. We have no way of telling how many people we didn’t catch, or what they brought with them.”
“At last count, the Government Accountability Office determined the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had less than half of the southwest border and only two percent of the northern border under operational control,” McCaul said. “This is not security by any measure, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Administrations of both parties have failed to tackle this challenge, and the American people deserve better.
“Last Congress,” he said, “this committee passed a bipartisan border security bill. But rather than use that bill as an opportunity to make sweeping changes to secure our territory, the department took no real action. Key officials instead doubled down on claims that our borders were more secure than ever. Ask Americans in border states whether that claim is true.”
“The time to rely on the department or this administration to measure border security progress has come and gone,” McCaul said, concluding that, “It is time for Congress to lead. And through this legislation, we tell the department and the administration how to get this job done once and for all.”