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House votes to make border fence between U.S., Mexico 700 miles longer

Chicago Tribune | September 14, 2006

WASHINGTON — The House voted for the second time in a year to erect a fence along one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border, part of a Republican effort to keep illegal immigration an issue before voters.

A new 700 miles of double-layered fencing won approval on a 283-138 vote, a bigger margin than in December, when the GOP-led House passed it as part of a broader bill that also would have made being an illegal immigrant a felony. The nearly 2,000-mile border has about 75 miles of fencing.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said the separate fence bill was needed to show Americans "we can take meaningful action to secure the border."

Washington Republicans Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris and Dave Reichert voted for the bill, as did Democrats Brian Baird and Adam Smith. Democrats Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen and Jim McDermott voted against it.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said the House would try to pass a series of bills strengthening border security by the end of September and seek to persuade the Senate to go along by including the package in a spending bill for the Homeland Security Department.

But the package would not include President Bush's guest-worker program, a proposal the Senate modified and included in the immigration bill it approved earlier this year.

Hastert said the guest-worker program should be considered only when the borders have been secured.

Democrats protested that the Republicans' move was a political ploy designed to help them in districts where illegal immigration is a hot issue in the midterm elections and that there was little or no chance the Senate would go along.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he doubted the House strategy would succeed without a guest-worker program.

He said tough border-security measures might help Republicans in some districts, but not necessarily in others. Border security has tightened to the point that some employers in the West have quietly complained they might not have enough workers, he said. In those districts, GOP candidates might not benefit as much by pushing for more security, he said.

"On balance, I'm not certain it's a political winner," Lugar said of the House GOP's plan to try to rush a border-security plan through Congress before the Nov. 7 election.

Hastert said the House leadership would try to work with the Senate and include the legislation in a House-Senate conference on the Homeland Security Department's appropriations bill that likely would be passed before the election.

Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, said Republican members heard about the need for border security in their districts during the August break.

"And while there has been some debate in Congress over whether we should do 'border security first,' there was no debate among the American people, who told us that Congress must enact border security now," she said.

"And that is what we will do."

Democrats ridiculed the legislation and called it political posturing.

"This is nothing more than political gamesmanship in the run-up to the midterm elections. Sounds good. Does nothing," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, accused Republicans of playing upon voters' fears to score political points, saying they were trying to confuse Americans into thinking "Osama bin Laden is heading north in a sombrero."


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