House GOP launches secure-borders bill

The Washington Examiner — House Republicans are officially launching their immigration reform effort Wednesday, with a border security bill aimed at keeping unlawful immigrants from entering the United States.

The bill could become the first in a series of measures Republicans take up in what they have promised will be a piecemeal approach to immigration reform in the new GOP-majority Congress.

Authored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, the legislation is scheduled Wednesday for a committee markup, the final step before it heads to the House floor for a vote.

Republicans expect the legislation will win widespread support from House GOP lawmakers and some Democrats as well.

Republican senators, led by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., are drafting companion legislation.

If the measure clears congress, it could pose a political challenge for President Obama, who so far this year has threatened to veto most GOP legislation, but who has also struggled to control an influx of tens of thousands of illegal migrants, many of them children, in the past year.

McCaul called the bill, ”the most significant and toughest border security bill ever set before Congress.”

The bill, however, excludes provisions that would address Obama’s recent executive actions that aim to stem deportations and provide work permits for millions of people already living here illegally.

The House passed a Department of Homeland Security spending bill earlier this month that defunds Obama’s executive action on immigration, but it will likely die in the Senate.

The McCaul bill focuses on new illegal entries, making it politically harder for Obama to veto. In most polls, Americans give higher priority to border security than to any other action on immigration.

The legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to achieve “operational control” of heavily trafficked border areas within two years and control of the nation’s entire southwest border within five years.

The bill calls for completion of the southern border fence by filling in and completing miles of existing gaps and constructing 27 miles of new fencing. It would also allow border patrol agents access to restricted federal lands that are used by illegal immigrants to sneak into the country. And it would require implementing new biometric identity security measures at all points of entry into the United States within five years.

Groups advocating limited or reduced immigration criticized the proposal.

Jessica Vaughan, who is director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a low-immigration advocacy group, said the border security bill is setting the stage for additional GOP legislation to expand visas and work programs for agricultural workers.

“The Republican leadership may view this as a prerequisite to bills that would expand guest worker programs and expand legal immigration,” Vaughan said “It’s a box to be checked so they can tell the public that they dealt with the border, and can proceed to enacting the cheap labor immigration bills favored by many large corporate interests.”

Republican leaders have been quiet about additional immigration reform bills, but are under pressure by business groups who support increasing work visas. The GOP is also eager to bolster its image with Hispanic voters ahead of the 2016 elections.