Saturday, December 17

House votes to erect 700 mi security fence along US-Mexico border

"After we pass this, we send it to the Senate. And I think that's the end of it."

Pundita thinks we should see something like another Boston Tea Party -- launched this time against the Democrat and Republican parties -- if the Senate doesn't at least vote for the limp-wristed security measures passed by the House.

However, the bill does not deal with the huge problem of remittances, which Pundita addressed at length earlier this year. (See Mexico essays on the sidebar.)

And of course legislation cannot substitute for strong action by the White House and State Department in dealing with the Mexican and Central American governments, which tacitly (and overtly) encourage immigration to the US in lieu of making reforms that bother the ruling class in those countries.

Border-security bill passes House but divides GOP
Mike Madden
Republic Washington Bureau
Arizona Central newspaper online

"Dec. 17, 2005 12:00 AM WASHINGTON - The House passed a sweeping border enforcement bill Friday night that would make illegal presence in the United States a federal crime, order employers to verify their workers' legal status and build a fence across most of the Arizona-Mexico border.

The 239-182 vote split the Arizona delegation, underscoring the fractious politics behind the issue. More than half of the 1.2 million arrests made last year by the U.S. Border Patrol were in Arizona.

The vote also exposed broader disputes among House Republicans that could pose hurdles for any immigration-reform bill, despite widespread recognition that the current system no longer works.

Pressure from constituents to fix the law has mounted in the past few years as illegal immigration has soared to record levels, straining hospitals, schools, social services and police departments around the country.

GOP leaders pushed hard for the measure so that lawmakers could go home for a monthlong Christmas break and lay the groundwork for next year's elections by touting tough action to stop illegal immigration.

But the bill does not include a plan for temporary-work visas for any of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States, something President Bush has sought for two years and a step many Arizona lawmakers say is crucial. The White House supported the bill anyway but said the administration will keep pushing for broader legislation.

The Senate may support a guest-worker visa when it takes up the issue in February, setting up an election-year clash over the most extensive immigration reform in years.

Both of Arizona's Republican senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, have written immigration bills that allow guest workers, though they differ over how to design the program.

The House measure attracted only grudging support from many lawmakers.

Republicans were split. Conservatives who want to crack down harder on illegal immigration and businesses that employ undocumented workers complained that it didn't go far enough.

Moderates who favor a guest-worker plan were upset that the bill didn't include the plan. They predicted undocumented immigrants would stay in the United States to work illegally even under the new bill's terms.

'The end of it'
Opposition arose on both sides of the debate, even within the Republican majority. Arizona GOP Reps. J.D. Hayworth and Jim Kolbe, who rarely agree on any immigration question, both opposed the bill and voted against two procedural motions needed to advance it to a final vote. Hayworth voted against final passage, one of only 17 Republicans to oppose the bill.

Kolbe, who will retire after this term in office, skipped the vote on final passage. His office released a statement saying he had a prior commitment but would've voted against the bill.

"These people, having voted on enforcement only, are never going to touch it again," said Kolbe, who has co-sponsored a guest-worker proposal with Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., that mirrors McCain's proposal.

Kolbe said he fears the House will never act on it.

"After we pass this, we send it to the Senate. And I think that's the end of it," he said.

Meanwhile, Hayworth predicted the Senate will pass its own guest-worker program that the House eventually will take up instead of the bill passed Friday.

"In terms of truth in labeling, are we in fact engaged in enforcement first, or are we in fact engaged in enforcement maybe?" Hayworth asked.

Republican leaders tried hard not to alienate other conservatives, who said they would revolt against any guest-worker bill. Republicans met privately Thursday to hash out internal disagreements before holding the first of two procedural votes needed to move the bill toward passage.

Both narrowly passed, despite opposition from Hayworth and Kolbe.

Most Democrats voted against the bill, saying it was too harsh on immigrants and impossible to enforce.

Pulled between siding with Kolbe, his co-sponsor on the guest-worker program, and with Republican leaders, Flake voted for the bill but said he could have voted against it. He said he was counting on the Senate to pass a more comprehensive reform bill.

He said he voted for the second procedural motion only after asking for assurance from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., that leadership wouldn't block the House from taking up a guest-worker bill next year.

"If the only way to move this forward is to give the Senate a flawed vehicle, then give it," Flake said.

Other Arizona lawmakers voted along party lines. The bill included a proposal by Rep. Rick Renzi to require Border Patrol uniforms to be made in the United States, easing security concerns raised by their production in Mexican factories.

Outside Congress, advocates for increasing legal immigration said they also hoped the Senate will pass a guest-worker plan and that the House bill will not become law. Business groups joined with labor unions and churches to oppose the House bill. Advocates for immigrant rights decried the legislation. The National Council of La Raza called it "appalling."

Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Carlos de Icaza, said the bill wouldn't fix immigration problems.

"Fences by themselves don't solve things, and not between neighbors," de Icaza said in an interview.

Conservatives called the measure a useful step toward getting control of the nation's borders, especially the 1,950-mile frontier with Mexico. The Federation for American Immigration Reform and other groups that seek reduced immigration agreed, urging supporters to call lawmakers all day Thursday and Friday to lobby for certain amendments."

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