CHN: Congress Approves Immigration Enforcement Provisions Before The Elections Options

In the final weeks of the 109th Congress, House conservatives succeeded in stymieing bipartisan efforts in Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  Instead of offering the American public any real solution to fix the currently flawed immigration system, House members filled the final days of the legislative calendar with narrow, enforcement-only proposals.  Their efforts resulted in passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (H.R. 6061) and the inclusion of language from the Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2006 in the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security spending measure, none of which offer an effective way to manage immigration flows.On September 29th, just before adjourning for the midterm-election recess, Senators approved the House-passed Secure Fence Act of 2006 (H.R. 6061) by a vote of 80-19.  This bill authorizes 700 miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile southwestern border with Mexico and allows heightened surveillance technology, such as cameras and sensors, along the entire border.  The Secure Fence Act of 2006 was one of several enforcement proposals House Republicans unveiled in mid-September as part of their “Border Security Now” agenda.  President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

Other immigration legislation, which House Republicans passed as stand-alone bills and hope the Senate will approve, were The Community Protection Act of 2006 (H.R. 6094) and the Immigration Law Enforcement Act of 2006 (H.R. 6095).  The Community Protection Act would allow the government to detain non-citizens indefinitely.  It would also make it easier to deport or deny entry to undocumented immigrants who were believed to be gang members.  The Immigration Law Enforcement Act of 2006 would permit state and local police officers to enforce immigration laws.  Senators managed to keep these two bills from being attached to the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 5441).  In the end, the only enforcement language House Republicans were able to include in the Homeland Security bill was from the Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2006 (H.R. 4830), which sets new criminal penalties for constructing unauthorized tunnels under the U.S. border and double penalties for smuggling immigrants and illegal items through an illegal tunnel.

So after months of ardent debate in Congress over how to fix the current immigration system and historic displays of support across the country for comprehensive immigration reform, Congress recessed leaving no effective or complete mechanism to fix our broken immigration system.