Long ready to launch border-security bill
Posted on January 28, 2015 08:44 am CST
By: Deidre Shesgreen and Erin Kelly
WASHINGTON – With a major immigration battle brewing in Washington, Rep. Billy Long toured the U.S.-Mexico border over the weekend, getting an up-close look at the complex problem of curbing illegal crossings and stopping drug traffickers.
Long, R-Springfield, took part in a high-profile congressional trip organized by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and author of a controversial border-security bill now pending in Congress. Long is a cosponsor of McCaul's bill.
Long was one of about two dozen lawmakers on the trip, which included stops at the border in California, Arizona and Texas. Chaperoned by U.S. Border Patrol agents, the House members also met with ranchers and Coast Guard officials.
In an interview Tuesday, Long said he saw how agents used a variety of tools — from chain-link fencing to drones to night-vision goggles — to track and stop migrants from coming into the U.S. He said the trip reaffirmed his support for McCaul's legislation — even as that proposal came under attack from the right and the left.
"The first thing you have to do is control your border, and that's what this bill does," Long said.
But as Long may have learned upon his return to Washington, that's easier said than done. Republicans are still scrambling to craft a response to President Barack Obama's December executive order shielding millions of undocumented workers from deportation.
McCaul's $10 billion border-security bill would require the secretary of homeland security to gain operational control of the border's high-traffic areas within two years and of the whole Southwest border within five years. Congress has defined "operational control" as preventing all unlawful entries.
Homeland Security officials have said that standard is impossible to meet — a point Long conceded.
House Republicans were supposed to vote on the legislation this week, but GOP leaders delayed its consideration. The official reason for pulling the bill was a snowstorm, which slowed lawmakers' return to Washington.
But political considerations were also at play. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose agency would be charged with implementing the legislation, has called the measure "extreme to the point of being unworkable."
And conservatives fear the border security bill will be used as an excuse to move other legislation allowing more immigrants into the country to work, and providing legal status for those already here.
"Consider the title: Secure Our Border First. First before what?" said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. "Before we move on to the amnesty and expansion of guest worker programs that appears to be the real priority for top congressional Republican leaders?"
Long said critics on both sides were "misguided."
He agreed it would be impossible to stop all illegal border crossings, saying on his trip he saw places where immigrants had cut through the border fence and watched footage of people coming across the Rio Grande on tiny rafts.
"It's a constant cat-and-mouse game," he said. But he argued that lawmakers should still mandate that tough standard.
"You're never going to stop 100 percent, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try," he said.
Asked about conservative complaints that the bill did not go far enough and could open the way for granting legal status to some immigrants who are now living in the U.S. illegally, Long said those issues could be addressed through amendments or through separate legislation. But he also said some of the arguments from the right were "ridiculous."
That's coming from "the same people that have been hollering at us to tighten the border for years," Long said. "Now that we're doing it, they have another thing to complain about."