Republicans craft tough response to amnesty

Washington Times — Even as they fight President Obama over his amnesties, House Republicans are moving ahead with legislation to force the Homeland Security Department to secure the worst parts of the southern border within two years, and to have the entire 2,000-mile border under control within five years.

The U.S. Border Patrol would be required to “impose a consequence” on every illegal immigrant caught trying to sneak into the U.S. — though the bill, introduced late Friday evening, doesn’t lay out exactly what the punishment would be.

The bill also specifically orders federal land agencies not to interfere with the Border Patrol’s efforts to halt illegal immigration.

Written by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, the legislation signals that even if he and his colleagues fail to stop Mr. Obama’s executive actions through the spending process, they plan to push for stiffer enforcement through normal legislation.

“The current state of our border security leaves the door wide open for more sinister individuals to make their way undetected in,” Mr. McCaul said in a video his committee released to explain his bill.

He and his chief co-sponsors, Republican Reps. Candice S. Miller of Michigan, and Will Hurd of Texas, challenged the claim by Mr. Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that the southwestern border is more secure than it has ever been.

Mr. McCaul said recent statistics signal an uptick in attempts at illegal border crossings, which belies the administration’s optimism.

Immigration has been a thorny issue for Congress for most of the past two years and looks set to continue this year.

Mr. Obama has renewed a feud with Congress by announcing his own executive deportation amnesty.

Beginning in February, he will allow a broad group of illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to apply for a three-year stay of deportation and for work permits to allow them to compete legally for jobs. In May, he will begin taking applications for illegal immigrant parents with U.S.-citizen children to apply for the same kind of tentative legal status.

Anyone with that status, which the administration calls “deferred action,” will be eligible for driver’s licenses in almost all states, and for Social Security and Medicare benefits, and for a key tax break for those with low incomes, as long as they meet the other requirements.

Mr. Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, said he was never going to have them deported anyway, so it makes sense to give them the ability to work legally and compete for jobs.

“The reality is that these individuals are low-enforcement priorities, low priorities for deportation. They are not going to be deported,” he said in a speech Friday at the Aero Club of Washington.

He said officially carving them, and millions of others who won’t get official status but who aren’t likely to be deported either, means he can focus his agencies on the small number of illegal immigrants with serious criminal records who he says should be priorities for deportation.

Mr. Johnson also said he would get serious about deporting anyone who has crossed the border since Jan. 1, 2014.

Critics say his moves will invite a new wave of illegal immigrants to cross the border in an attempt to take advantage of the amnesty. Some lawmakers in Congress are trying to halt the amnesty through the annual spending process.

Mr. McCaul’s bill goes beyond that. The legislation builds on one he passed through his committee last year. That version, which passed with Democrats’ support, would have pushed the Homeland Security Department to come up with a plan for border security, and for ways to measure it.

That legislation had a number of Democrats as sponsors, and indeed Democratic leaders liked it so much that they used it as part of their own broad immigration overhaul legislation they introduced last year.

Mr. McCaul’s latest bill gives details about where to place various types of technology and infrastructure along the border.

The legislation had not attracted any Democratic co-sponsors listed as of Friday evening.

Mr. McCaul’s bill is weaker than the border security provisions included in the 2013 immigration bill that passed the Senate on a strong 68-32 bipartisan vote. That legislation called for hundreds of miles of additional fencing and for adding another 20,000 Border Patrol agents to the southern border.