Pewaukee — The United States must secure its borders as the first step in addressing immigration reform, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said Saturday at a town-hall meeting with constituents.
Johnson, the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, answered questions on border security and other matters at the meeting held at the Thunder Bay Grille.
“I think Americans have been puzzled for decades over why we don’t secure our borders,” Johnson said. “We are a nation of immigrants, but it has to be a legal process.”
The committee has two different domains — homeland security and broad government oversight.
Under Johnson, it will address border security, cybersecurity and protection of critical infrastructure such as the electrical grid.
The first-term senator said he and the panel’s top Democrat, Tom Carper of Delaware, are taking a trip to the Mexican border where they and others will meet with U.S. Border Patrol agents, local sheriffs, ranchers and individuals with firsthand knowledge of the problems.
“Do I know how to secure the border? No. But I know how to develop a process for getting it done,” Johnson said. “We are going to take a very analytical approach, starting with the reality of the situation, trying to set achievable goals.”
The senator said there is a need for double fencing in some sections of the border so that it’s not so easy to rip a hole through the barrier from the Mexican side where U.S. law enforcement doesn’t have jurisdiction.
“The way it is now, someone can cut a hole in the fence and we can’t do anything about it,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said he favors an effective guest worker program to reduce or eliminate the incentives for someone to slip into the country illegally. His chairmanship will give him a role in how Republicans try to counter President Barack Obama’s executive order to permit about 4 million undocumented immigrants to work legally in the country.
“The No. 1 incentive for people to come here illegally is to work. That’s the same incentive that all of our ancestors had… it’s a good thing, but it should be a legal process,” Johnson said.
There’s no “one size fits all” solution to illegal immigration, Johnson said, and the U.S. must also pay attention to its northern and coastal borders, as well as the Mexican border. With worries about terrorism and infectious diseases such as Ebola, there’s growing political pressure to secure our borders, he said.
In addition to addressing border security, he wants the committee to hold hearings on matters such as electromagnetic pulse threats to the nation’s electrical grid.
An electromagnetic pulse generated by a high-altitude nuclear explosion has the potential to shut down a large portion of the grid instantaneously, so a single missile with a warhead doesn’t have to be very large to inflict great damage.