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Homeland Security chief bashes McSally-backed border bill
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Homeland Security chief bashes McSally-backed border bill

  • A new House of Representatives bill could require the U.S. Border Patrol to deploy closer to the border and maintain 'operational control' of certain areas, a requirement that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson criticized in a public statement Thursday.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA new House of Representatives bill could require the U.S. Border Patrol to deploy closer to the border and maintain 'operational control' of certain areas, a requirement that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson criticized in a public statement Thursday.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson released a statement late Thursday night sharply criticizing a border security bill headed for a House floor vote next week, calling the legislation "extreme to the point of being unworkable." 

The "Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015" was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, as well as Arizona's freshman Rep. Martha McSally. 

A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Flake and others, and Sen. John McCain has signed on as a co-sponsor. 

Last year, McCain was one of the "gang of eight" senators who tried to push through a comprehensive immigration reform package in 2013, which included changes to the nation's immigration system as well as new spending on border security, including fencing, technology and an expansion of the agency's drone program. However, that bill died in the Senate and a similar effort collapsed in the House. 

The new bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to achieve "operational control" of high-traffic areas along the border within the next two years, construct some new fencing, give the agency direct access to federal lands, and require the agency to implement a system that tracks the entry and exit of people at all ports of entry using biometrics.

The bill would also reimburse states using National Guard units to patrol the border and add more funding to a DHS program that gives grants to local law enforcement agencies. 

Thursday morning, McSally tacked on an amendment to the bill requiring Border Patrol agents to "patrol as close to the physical land border as possible." 

The amendment requires the agency to "deploy the maximum practicable number" of agents to forward operating bases near the border," and "patrol as close to the physical land border as possible, consistent with the accessibility to such areas."

However, Johnson said the bill would leave the border less secure if enacted and "was not a serious effort at legislating border security – and its authors know it."

John said that by setting "mandatory and highly prescriptive standards that the Border Patrol itself regards as impossible to achieve, undermines the Department of Homeland Security’s capacity to adapt to emerging threats, and politicizes tactical decisions." 

The bill has already passed through a House committee on Wednesday night on a partisan 18-12 vote and is set for a full vote next week.

Johnson said that the bill does little to provide funding that the agency needs, especially after last summer's influx of thousands of families and unaccompanied minors in the Rio Grande Valley, which stressed the agency's funding. 

In July, Johnson and the White House pushed for $3.7 billion in funding for the surge, but were rebuffed by Congress. Johnson then pulled $405 million from the Department of Homeland Security's disaster relief fund, as well as money from agencies beneath the DHS umbrella to cover the funding gap. 

Since then, the agency has operated under a continuing resolution, a situation that Johnson criticized. 

At the end of his letter, Johnson said the House bill would hamstring the agency and asked Congress to "support the homeland security professionals at this Department with the resources they need, without provisions that would micromanage their work or restrict their flexibility in dealing with the nation’s critical homeland security efforts." 

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