Policy

Border Wall, Agents Would Get $15 Billion Boost From Cornyn Bill

DHS was consulted, Senate majority whip says

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, conducts a news conference on border security legislation in the Capitol on August 3, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans introduced legislation Thursday that would authorize $15 billion for new border wall construction and technology, the hiring of thousands more Border Patrol and interior enforcement agents, and measures to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities.

The bill, authored by Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is a companion measure to a House bill introduced last month by Johnson’s counterpart, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas.

“This is just the beginning of this conversation, but it’s a plan that Congress can implement through the appropriations process rather than appropriating money, without a plan in place, on a piecemeal or ad hoc basis,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn said the bill is aimed at showing the American people that Congress has a comprehensive plan to secure the border over the next four years, the authorization period for the bill. The funding would still have to be allocated through the appropriations process.

The bill, which Cornyn said was written with input from the Homeland Security Department, includes numerous provisions mirroring President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, including wall construction and the end of so-called catch-and-release practices.

“We need to regain the public’s confidence and trust,” Cornyn said. “With this president in the White House, we think we have an ally who will help us.”

Cornyn’s bill also includes legislation offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would increase criminal penalties for undocumented criminals who enter the United States illegally despite previous deportations. Cruz’s bill is named for Kathryn Steinle, a San Francisco woman shot and killed in 2015 by a Mexican national with prior felonies and multiple deportations. The House passed its version of that bill in June.

The legislation also includes a bill by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., to cut off certain federal funds for cities and counties that bar local police from cooperating with federal immigration agents.

The bill is the second major piece of immigration legislation introduced by Republicans in as many days. Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue of Georgia on Wednesday introduced a sweeping overhaul of the legal immigration system that would drastically reduce the number of green cards issued to extended family members of U.S. residents in order to attract more highly qualified immigrants.

Both measures would require a heavy lift by Congress, needing at least eight Democratic votes in the Senate in order to overcome a filibuster. Democrats say they will oppose construction of a border wall, which Trump promised in the campaign. They consider it ineffective and too expensive.

The White House requested $1.6 billion to begin wall construction in San Diego and southern Texas in fiscal 2018. The House has approved the funding as part of the so-called security minibus appropriations package, but the defense spending in the measure busts budget caps. It’s unclear if the package will be taken up by the Senate, where it would face stiff opposition from Democrats who are opposed to the border wall. 

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