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McSally backing plan to fund permanent Nat'l Guard border deployments

The U.S. Border Patrol would have greater freedom to patrol federally protected lands, and the National Guard would be fully funded for permanent border security operations if a key Texas Republican has better luck on immigration legislation with a new Congress.

The Secure Our Borders First Act, filed by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and co-signed by Rep. Martha McSally, would also expand fines levied against people caught crossing the border illegally, transfer extra military equipment to border agencies and limit pay raises and travel for appointees to the Department of Homeland Security if the border isn't sealed in five years.

The measure is a follow-up to a 2013 McCaul bill, the Border Security Results Act, which gained bipartisan support in committee and passed out unanimously, but failed to reach the U.S. House floor for a vote.

The bill appears to have a better chance of advancing than McCaul's last effort in the new GOP-controlled Congress. The Homeland Security Committee, which he chairs, will consider the proposal on Wednesday.

"It is the toughest border security bill ever before Congress, with real penalties for the administration for not doing their job," McCaul said in a statement. "We need this legislation to protect the American people and sovereignty of this nation."

McCaul filed his bill during the state's ongoing efforts to secure the border with the National Guard last summer. That effort calls for as many as 1,000 Texas soldiersto patrol the Rio Grande Valley, and came in response to a surge of illegal immigration last summer. The guard presence has been extended by the state's leadership through March. Border Democrats have pushed back and said the deployment stains the area's reputation and sends the wrong message to its Mexican neighbors.

David Aguilar, the former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection and former chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, said the National Guard deployment in McCaul's plan shouldn't be seen as soldiers with guns and free range to arrest or detain people.

"I would go as far, from a personal perspective, to say it should not be applied in that fashion," he said. "But it should be and can be welcomed to be applied in the support mode" including aviation and surveillance missions.

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Aguilar, now a partner and co-founder of Global Security and Intelligence Strategies, called McCaul's bill a good "road map."

"It sets the parameters and the requirements that should be focused on," he said.

The issue of Border Patrol access to federal lands will likely reignite a debate between environmentalists and proponents of more security.

Policies put in place by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior to protect endangered species and the environment also prevent agents from gaining access to some federal land near the border, according to a report by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources. McCaul's bill would prevent those departments from denying the Border Patrol entry, and allow construction of roads or installation of surveillance equipment on federal lands within 100 miles of the border.

When a similar measure was added to an emergency funding bill last summer, John Leshy, the solicitor of the Department of the Interior during the Clinton administration, told U.S. News and World Report the move was "basically Republicans using the border stuff to waive environmental laws and open up roads along the border to activities that would otherwise be controlled by land-management entities."

McCaul's bill has several original Republican co-sponsors, including 10 from Texas. But some Republicans say the measure doesn't go far enough, and criticized the bill for introducing new legislation.

"Why would Republicans introduce new border security bench marks and expect the president to implement them at a time when he has nullified our current laws?" the Conservative Review wrote in a political commentary. "Why not focus exclusively on cutting off funding for agencies until he agrees to implement the laws on the books, as House conservatives pushed for last week?"

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3 comments on this story

Jan 27, 2015, 8:47 pm
-0 +0

except the overwhelming majority of the people coming over the border are not criminals and come here to work and feed their families.

Jan 27, 2015, 8:43 pm
-0 +0

Bring on the National guard to protect the U.S. Citizens from criminal drug runners and illegals crawling over our border. 21 year old killed working at a convenience store in Phoenix by illegal convicted of burglary and ties to Mexican Mafia after out on 10k bond and on probation while awaiting for years whether he should be deported. Close the border now. National guard is a no brainer. The judge that let the killer out on bond should be held responsible for this young mans death. Our government has failed to protect the country & Jeh Johnson doesn’t have a clue to change this.Soldiers with guns on the border? Sure.  That is the only thing these criminals will understand.

Jan 21, 2015, 7:08 pm
-1 +2

McSleazy has to go. She thinks increasing fines on undocumented immigrants is going to deter people. Earth to Martha..these people wouldn’t be risking their lives crossing the border if they had any money in the first place. Martha supports cutting infrastructure improvements which would create jobs and improve the general economy in Arizona and instead wants to waste money deploying the national guards. McSleazy never had a private sector job in her life and lived off a retirement pension with free healthcare before entering Congress yet she and her supporters bash the unemployed and the poor all the time..many of these unemployed formerly paid taxes that paid for her govt paycheck.

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National Guard photo, 2011

McSally co-signs border bill

Freshman Republican Rep. Martha McSally is supporting McCaul's measure.

"This bill takes the important step of addressing and improving our broken border strategy," she said in a statement released by her office. "I've been working hand in hand with Chairman McCaul to make sure this legislation takes into account our residents' experiences living along the border and addresses their needs and concerns. While I support the bill, I have some concerns still about its direct impact on Southern Arizona and intend to work with the Chairman to ensure they get addressed by the Committee and included in a final bill."