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CQ: Border Security Bill Approved by House Panel

By Carolyn Phenicie - CQ Roll Call

A House panel on Wednesday advanced a bill that would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop plans to gain operational control of high-traffic areas within two years and the entire southwest border within five years.

The Homeland Security Committee approved the bill (HR 1417) by voice vote after adopting a substitute amendment from panel Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, in a separate voice vote.

The substitute would lengthen the deadlines for completion of strategies and submission of reports required in the bill and would provide additional specific aspects to be included in border control strategies.

The committee adopted by voice vote a Lamar Smith, R-Texas, amendment that would require the department to include a plan to gain operational control of the entire southwest border within five years.

The panel considered over two dozen amendments in the four-hour markup. Only one was rejected — an attempt by Democrats, who argued that the bill’s requirements amounted to an unfunded mandate, to add funding authorizations.

The amendment from ranking Democrat Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, defeated on a 14-15 party-line vote, would authorize $3 billion over five years to carry out the bill’s provisions.

“We pass a bill that requires a whole host of operational endeavors, but we don’t provide the funding for it,” said Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y. “We’ve been down this road before with many pieces of legislation coming from this body and the results have been disastrous.”

McCaul agreed that additional funding will be needed but said such money should be authorized once Homeland Security has completed the plan and can provide an estimate of how much will be needed.

“The problem is we’ve been throwing resources, ad hoc, down to the border without any accountability,” McCaul said. “It’s premature at this point in time to even know what that number is in terms of additional appropriations.”

Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., said the $3 billion figure was a “huge cost” and that including it “could be a poison pill” to Republicans at this point.

The panel also adopted a number of other amendments, including ones that would:

• Require Homeland Security to standardize the data used to determine border control effectiveness rates.

• Require the department to explain why it cannot achieve operational control.

• Prohibit Homeland Security from studying border crossing fees for pedestrians and passenger vehicles at the northern or southern border.

• Require the department to study the security and competitive impacts on entering into reimbursement agreements with foreign governments for preclearance at U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities.