Border Security Bill Backed by House Panel

Apr 24, 2013 Issues: Border Security

CQ -- Joanna Anderson

A measure backed by a House panel Wednesday calls on the Obama administration to show tangible progress on border security, a goal viewed by many GOP lawmakers as a prerequisite for broader changes to immigration law.

By voice vote, the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security approved an amended measure (HR 1417) directing the Department of Homeland Security to develop a two-year plan for achieving “operational control” of the U.S. border, as well as a better understanding of the security situation.

The bill defines operational control as reaching at least a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal border crossers in high-traffic areas, along with significant increases in seizures of narcotics and other contraband. In addition, the legislation calls on the department to put in place a series of metrics that measure border security.

Panel members said they hoped the proposal would become part of the debate over an immigration overhaul. This legislation “truly lays down the marker for moving ahead on comprehensive immigration reform,” said ranking Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.

The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Texas Republican Michael McCaul — chairman of the full Homeland Security Committee — and has the backing of other panel leaders. In the Senate, Republican John Cornyn, also of Texas, introduced similar legislation (S 683).

Subcommittee Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., said Wednesday that progress on border security has come only “in fits and starts.” She lamented the lack of “a serious plan to secure the border and tangible ways to measure either success or failure.”

Miller, a co-sponsor, said the legislation’s required plan will inform how resources are deployed to the border.

On Wednesday, the panel adopted a substitute amendment from Miller that revised the bill’s security metrics to expand the scope of information measured. Miller also urged the Homeland Security Department to “make a much more serious effort” to help the panel further refine the legislation.

In addition, the subcommittee adopted more than a dozen other amendments, most making minor changes. Among the measures added was a Jackson Lee proposal to require input from border community stakeholders, such as ranchers.

Also adopted was a Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., amendment directing the department to carry out covert testing at ports of entry as a way to identify weaknesses.

The bill now moves to the full House Homeland Security Committee.