Senate Backs Amendment to Spend $3 Billion on Border Security Efforts

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - The Senate on Thursday approved an amendment devoting $3 billion to increase border security efforts as part of a $38 billion homeland security funding bill. It passed 89-1.

The amendment, offered by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), provides funding to build a 700-mile long fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, as called for in the Secure Fence Act. It also requires the federal government to establish and to demonstrate operational control over 100 percent of the land and maritime borders between the U.S. and Mexico.

"In the age of terrorism, regaining operational control of our nation's borders is a national security issue of the highest order," said Graham in a statement.

"There is no doubt we need better border security at our southern border including more boots on the ground, more miles of fencing, better technology which acts as a force multiplier, additional detention beds, and unmanned aerial vehicles," he said. "My amendment provides funding for these important and much-needed changes in federal policy."

The amendment provides to hire, train and deploy 23,000 Customs and Border Patrol agents. It seeks to permanently end the "catch and release" of illegal aliens by providing the resources necessary to detain up to 45,000 individuals a day.

The amendment also provides funding for 300 miles of vehicle barriers at the border, 105 ground-based radar and camera towers, and the deployment of four unmanned aerial vehicles at the border. In addition, it provides funds to cover the deportation of absconders and visa overstays.

"I'm pleased with the overwhelming support for my amendment," said Graham. "It's a confidence builder in showing the American people we are serious about border security. Regaining operational control of our nation's borders is the gateway to further reforms of our broken immigration system."

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, a controversial comprehensive immigration reform bill failed in the Senate last month when the bill's supporters could not muster the 60 votes necessary to end debate on the measure.

Graham said that would not stop lawmakers from approving a legislative fix for the broken system, even if it happens "one piece at a time."

"The comprehensive approach failed but the problems posed by illegal immigration have not gone away," said Graham. "We are now addressing the major changes one piece at a time. This is a strong first step in a long journey toward reforming our broken immigration system."

Although his amendment addresses issues like the border fence, Graham warned that more needs to be done in areas like assimilation and an employee verification system.

"We still need a more robust electronic employee verification system (EEVS), a merit-based immigration system, assimilation programs to ensure people understand English, a method to ensure everyone is paying taxes, a temporary guest worker program for people who want to come here, make money and return to their home country, and other changes," said Graham.

"This is the beginning of a longer, more drawn out effort to reform our nation's immigration practices," he added.

President Bush earlier pledged to veto the homeland security bill, because it includes $2.3 billion more funding than he requested, but the White House said Bush may at least approve the funding for the border.

"To the extent Congress supports additional emergency funding, we want to work with them to make sure it is spent on the highest border security priorities," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

But even if the president vetoes the bill, Republicans predict the measure will have the votes to override the presidential veto.digg_skin = 'compact'

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