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March 30, 2005

Sensenbrenner Visits Border, Presses REAL ID Act Passage


House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, flanked by three senior California House members Duncan Hunter, Ed Royce and Duke Cunningham, turned up the heat on the Senate Tuesday at news conference along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border known as Smugglerís Gulch south of San Diego.

Aliens waiting to cross the border illegally chat casually with reporters, while members of Congress hold press conference a few feet away.

During a brief conversation I had with Chairman Sensenbrenner before the formal press conference began, he expressed guarded optimism that the Senate would approve the REAL ID Act, either as a free-standing piece of legislation or as part of an Appropriations measure to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I would say the chances are better than 50-50," Sensenbrenner said.

Among the provisions of the REAL ID Act, which he authored, is one that allows for the completion of a second layer of fencing along a three-mile stretch of near San Diego. The completion has been delayed for six years by legal challenges filed by open borders advocates, claiming that construction of the barrier would damage the environment. The latest entity to impede construction of the security barrier is the California Coastal Commission, which is tasked with regulating development along the stateís fragile coastline. Several of the reporters who questioned the congressman about the claims of so-called environmentalists seemed oblivious to the mounds of trash strewn around the mountain canyons and damage caused by armies of illegal aliens as they traipsed through nearby estuaries.

The Mexican side of the security fence filled with dirt, making crossing easy.

Each of the four members of Congress stated unequivocally that completion of the border fence is a matter of national security. "It is very plain that we will never have homeland security if we donít have border security," said Sensenbrenner. Royce, who chairs a subcommittee on terrorism stated that al-Qaeda and other terrorist operatives "have changed their identities, taken Hispanic surnames and been ordered to infiltrate" the U.S. by sneaking across the southern border.

From left to right: Reps. Ed Royce, Duncan Hunter, James Sensenbrenner, and Duke Cunningham, addressing the media on national security risk at our southern border.

During the formal news conference I asked why, 19 years after enactment of employer sanctions, which was meant to deter illegal immigration, the U.S. still had no employment verification system and no enforcement against employers who hire illegal aliens. Sensenbrenner agreed that this was vital to slowing the onslaught of illegal immigration, but he contended that his bill is "a homeland security bill, not an immigration bill." The issues are "so contentious that putting them both in the same pot will result in nothing happening."

In further response to my question, Sensenbrenner revealed that a comprehensive immigration enforcement package would be forthcoming in 2006. While he did not cite specifics, the clear implication was that this legislation would include the means to enforce employer sanctions. "My intent is to deal with immigration in an overall way next year," said Sensenbrenner. He went on to say that the bill "will put employers who hire illegal aliens for cash and on the cheap out of business."

-- Ira Mehlman

Photo courtesy Jim Dorcy