Senate pivots to border fence measure

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will now schedule Senate debate on a border security bill:

The Senate, which has been the major obstacle to strict border-security legislation this year, will take up a bill this week that calls for constructing 700 more miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It’s time to secure the border with Mexico,” Majority Leader Bill Frist said last night before filing the parliamentary motions to force the House-passed bill onto the Senate floor in a final effort to get a major immigration bill on the president’s desk before the elections.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Minority Leader Harry Reid, said the move “smacks of desperation” and was a “clear repudiation of President Bush’s call for comprehensive legislation.”

The Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was easily approved by the House last week, contains none of the “comprehensive” measures that President Bush, Democrats and some Senate Republicans have demanded. Those include provisions to grant citizenship rights to about 10 million illegal aliens living in the country and a guest-worker program that would usher hundreds of thousands more foreign laborers into the U.S.

The measure will have its chare of detractors on the Senate floor, even within the Repuublican Party:

Among the most adamant supporters of comprehensive reform have been Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped form a coalition earlier this year to derail any legislation that failed to grant broad citizenship rights to illegals and create a guest-worker program. The group of Republican defectors also included Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia.

Mr. McCain, Mr. Warner and Mr. Graham also have bolted party leadership by opposing Mr. Bush’s proposed legislation for handling the terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. The specter of a showdown this week over both the Guantanamo detainees and immigration had some Republican staffers on Capitol Hill wondering whether the trio could wage a two-front battle against their own party during an election season in which control of both chambers is in question.

UPDATE: The Senate will vote on Wednesday on whether or not to invoke cloture and move forward with consideration of this bill. The outcome of the vote is up in the air.

In the extended section read a Frist press release from last night announcing the pivot to border security in the Senate:



WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., (R–Tenn.) made the following statement after filing cloture on the motion to proceed to the Secure Fence Act of 2006:

“Border security is the essential first step of any effort to enact immigration reform. Only when we have convinced the American people of our commitment to securing our borders will we be able reach a consensus on comprehensive immigration reform. Tonight, I filed cloture on the motion to proceed to the Secure Fence Act of 2006 which will authorize the construction of physical barriers and deploy state-of-the-art technology to secure our border.”

The Secure Fence Act of 2006:

  • Authorizes over 700 miles of two-layered reinforced fencing along the southwest border with prioritized placement at critical, highly populated areas and requiring an evaluation of infrastructure needs along the northern border;
  • Mandates that DHS achieve and maintain operational control over the entire border through a “virtual fence” that deploys cameras, ground sensors, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and integrated surveillance technology;
  • Requires DHS to provide all necessary authority to border personnel to disable fleeing vehicles, similar to the authority held by the United States Coast Guard for maritime vessels; and
  • Requires DHS to assess the vulnerability of the northern border.

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