Just three weeks after voting against it, the U.S. Senate this week overwhelmingly voted to begin funding the 370-mile border fence and 500-mile vehicle barrier called for in the "comprehensive immigration reform" legislation passed by the body in May.
The measure, which took the form of an amendment to the defense appropriations bill, approves nearly $2 billion for border security efforts. It was passed by a vote of 94-3. Amid stark criticism from their constituents and with border security proving to be a hot political issue going into November's mid-term elections, 66 Senators who voted against the funding last month changed their tune, casting "yes" votes this week. The only three votes against were Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and James Jeffords (I-VT).
Following the vote, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the amendment's sponsor, stated, "The voice of the American people is beginning to be heard, and there's been a sea-change in how people are thinking about some of these issues. ... It's become clearer and clearer that the fence does work, and it's become clearer and clearer that the American people want us to put our money where our mouth was."
We'll say! Since May, Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) supporters and activists alone have sent more the 150,000 letters to the Senate in opposition to amnesty for illegals and in support of tough border security, including the border fence and vehicle barrier. Since the Senate began debate on its so-called comprehensive legislation, CFIF activists have sent nearly 500,000 letters in opposition to the Senate bill, which maintains strong support from the White House.
While the Senate action this week can be viewed as a step in the right direction, it remains to be seen what ultimately will result from reconciling the stark differences between the House's border-security only bill and the Senate's "comprehensive" amnesty approach. Indeed, a majority of Senators on both sides of the aisle have ramped up their calls for border security, but they continue to insist on tying it to a path to citizenship for the more than 12 million people currently living and working in the United States illegally.
House leaders have stood firmly with the American people and for their "border security first" posture. They have taken their message on the road with at least 21 field hearings scheduled this month across the country addressing everything from the impacts illegal immigration and the Senate-passed bill will have on the nation's healthcare and welfare systems to the huge unfunded mandates on state and local governments that may result from the Senate bill, and even the rampant criminal exploitation of lax enforcement of the nation's current immigration laws.
Supporters of the "comprehensive" amnesty approach argue that deporting those 12 million illegals is not feasible. Maybe not. But with nearly a million people crossing our border illegally every year, we maintain that stopping the flow of illegals – both physically and by removing the enormous incentives for them being here – must be priority number one. Anything else, including amnesty, will prove fruitless if we don't.
In addition, our skepticism about the Senate's approach is rooted in our nation's failure to adequately enforce immigration laws currently on the books. Much like the Senate's approach today, in 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which granted amnesty to 3 million aliens but also called for tough immigration enforcement measures. Twenty years and 12 million illegals later, the American people are still waiting for the "enforcement" to happen.
Finally, the rule of law must be maintained in any legislation that is ultimately approved. To reward millions of people who have knowingly and willingly broken our nation's laws with many of the same rights and privileges we enjoy as American citizens is to disregard the rule of law -- which maintains peace and civility within our borders -- and invites further breaches by millions down the road. It would also be a cynical slap in the face to all who worked hard to get here legally, not to mention those who still respectfully wait to do so.
We can only hope the Senate's action this week is a sign that its leaders are finally – albeit slowly and perhaps fearfully -- coming around and beginning to hear the voice of the American people, which continues to demand secure borders first. The Senate would be wise to follow up their recent action by abandoning their "comprehensive" gobbledygook and acting to stop the massive flow of illegals into the country. Then and only then can there be a full and honest debate on the need for and repercussions of a guest worker program to support the nation's economy.
If not, the voice of the American people is sure to be heard come November ... and thereafter.August 4, 2006
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