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Republican Senators Seek to Ramp Up US Border Security

  • Michael Bowman

FILE - U.S. Border Patrol vehicles are patrol along the U.S. Mexico border area in San Diego, California, April 21, 2017.

One day after President Donald Trump endorsed a plan to reduce and reshape legal immigration to the United States, Republican lawmakers unveiled border security legislation to stem the flow of illegal immigration.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas said Thursday during a news conference at the Capitol that U.S. border agents should have "100 percent situational awareness" and "100 percent operational control" of America's border with Mexico.

"Since 9/11, we've seen how important it is for us to know who is coming into our country and what their intentions are," said Cornyn, whose state encompasses more than a thousand-kilometer stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas points to a poster as he talks to reporters about border security on Capitol Hill, Washington, Aug. 3, 2017.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas points to a poster as he talks to reporters about border security on Capitol Hill, Washington, Aug. 3, 2017.

Cornyn's bill, Building America's Trust Act, would authorize billions of dollars to boost the number of border patrol agents, increase high-tech monitoring capabilities, and augment walls and other physical barriers to deter illegal crossings.

It also would withhold certain types of federal funding to localities that do not cooperate with federal immigration officials in identifying and detaining undocumented immigrants — so-called "sanctuary cities" — and make it harder for undocumented minors apprehended at the border to be released to family members residing in the United States.

"This is not a pretend border security bill. This is a tough border security and interior enforcement bill," Cornyn said.

Ending illegal immigration was one of Trump's core promises to voters during last year's campaign, and many Republican lawmakers have long supported tougher border enforcement, as well as compelling municipalities to work cooperatively with federal immigration agents.

Hurdles ahead

The bill faces significant hurdles in the Senate, however, where Republicans control 52 of 100 seats. Eight Democrats would have to back the legislation to reach the three-fifths majority needed to begin floor debate.

Many Democrats say they would support additional resources for border enforcement as part of a broader package that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. A comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the Senate in 2013, when Democrats controlled the chamber, but was never put to a vote in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

FILE - Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks during a campaign stop in Phoenix, Nov. 3, 2016.
FILE - Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks during a campaign stop in Phoenix, Nov. 3, 2016.

"Should there be more enforcement? Yes," Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia told VOA. "But just doing the crackdown on both legal and illegal [immigration] with no visa reform, no other kinds of reform — that doesn't really speak to what I'm hearing form Virginians [constituents]."

As for withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities, Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond, Virginia, added, "I don't like bills that punish cities."

Cornyn sees the issue as one of compliance with the law.

"It is the responsibility of every city and every citizen to cooperate with law enforcement, and that's what we're demanding," the Texas Republican said. "If they don't, this [bill] has provisions that will withhold federal funds."

Rights groups

Immigrant rights groups argue that erecting walls and other barriers along the border is both offensive and unnecessary.

"The undocumented population is staying steady. In fact, net migration from Mexico has decreased," said Carlos Guevara of Unidos US. "We already spend an enormous amount of resources on the border."

Some Republicans counter that heightened vigilance at the border would save lives.

"Think about the more than 10,000 people who have died crossing the border by smugglers who have left them for dead," said Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina. "We want to keep them alive."

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