Oct. 2, 2006 – The US Senate passed a bill Friday that would create a 700-mile fence along the countryâ€™s 2,000-mile-long Mexican border, and increase both the surveillance of the border and the authority of US customs officials.
The bill, which matches a House version passed on September 14, increases the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, satellites and cameras scanning the border, as well as the number of US entry checkpoints. It also orders the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate procedures to stop "fleeing vehicles" passing through border checkpoints, including whether to adopt new technologies for disabling vehicles.
Critics have raised concerns that the border-security package skirts the broader debate around immigration and security issues, setting into motion some of its harsher aspects without addressing provisions for which immigration proponents have fought. Measures that would permit more guest workers to enter the country or plot a path to citizenship for some already here illegally remain on the back burner.
The advocacy group Justice for Immigrants said the bill is one part of misguided immigration reform that seeks to unfairly punish immigrants. "The enactment of these individual measures is an attempt to circumvent the legislative process and enact H.R. 4437 [the "Sensenbrenner bill"] in a piecemeal fashion, thus abrogating the need to consider other important aspects of immigration reform," the group said in a statement.
Passed by the House of Representatives last year, the Sensenbrenner bill seeks to crack down on illegal immigration through measures such as increasing border security and punishing employers of undocumented immigrants.
According to a statement released by Speaker Dennis Hastert, House Republicans plan to issue more bills on tightening border security, including the addition of more border patrol agents and the removal of the six-month limit on detaining undocumented immigrants. "House Republicans have already dedicated billions of dollars for border security in our appropriations bills, but it is clear that more action is necessary," he said.
Justice for Immigrants said it is particularly concerned that a proposed "path to citizenship for the undocumented and the creation of a temporary worker program" are at risk if Congress selectively pursues long-sought "reforms."
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to initiate increased border security within eighteen months. DHS is also required to evaluate the feasibility of increasing the authority of customs-enforcement officials within 30 days.
The aerospace giant Boeing was recently awarded an initial contract of $70 million to construct a network of surveillance towers for both the Canadian and Mexican borders. The Department of Homeland Security has admitted that many previous private projects on border security resulted in false alarms indicating border crossings while failing to reduce the number of immigrants crossing the borders.