It is easy to agree with Bill Kristol, editor of the WeeklyStandard, and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, that the Senate immigration bill should die a quick death in the House. There was much that was good in the bill, but it didn't mandate a border fence, and the vast length of the bill are equally sufficient reasons to judge the bill a giant head-fake. The Gang of 8 should have known that the former was an absolute necessity, and the latter a death knell in the age of “We have to pass the bill to find out what is in it.”
Unlike some anti-reform voices, however, I and I think most conservative pundits believe the House GOP needs to take up and pass serious but sensible immigration reform. The reasons for doing so are numerous and for the most-part self-evident. Senator Marco Rubio made a great case for reform, even though he and his colleagues didn’t make a great bill. That case is the subject of a long article I just published in theRegent Law School Journal of Law and Public Policy and the outlines of the general argument are well known. But --a crucial "but"-- the base is increasingly insistent on reform and border security. (One example of one very influential voice in favor of reform is Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. The GOP ignores the growing Catholic-evangelical consensus on the need for reform at its own peril.)
As the House turns to the subject, however, the key precondition of a successful immigration reform effort remains in doubt: a long, strong double-layered border fence, mandated to run at least half the length of the border, with appropriated funding, authority to override other statutes that could block its construction such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, mapped to cross tribal lands without hesitation and citizen-standing provisions to assure that that which is promised is actually done.
(Read National Review's Jonathan Strong's piece on why a citizen-standing provision would get the fence built. Citizen standing is a feature of any statute the Congress really cares to see implemented. It was not part of the fence act of 2006 and –what a surprise—that fence didn’t get built.)
Arkansas Congressman Tom Cotton published a lengthy op-ed inThursday’s Wall Street Journal on theneed for a serious House bill, one that begins with a serious fence. Here are the key lines from his piece:
When I was a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan, my units relied on guards and technology to secure our bases, but the first line of defense was always a physical perimeter.
That’s because fences work. The fence built in the San Diego border sector dramatically reduced border crossings there from 100,000 per year to just 5,000 per year when it was completed in 2006, a 95% drop. Earlier this year, Israel reduced illegal crossing at its Sinai border to two per month from 2,000 per month by completing a fence. Why doesn’t the Senate bill mandate an effective fence? The answer, plainly, is that the intention is not to build one.
Congressman Cotton’s defense of the fence is compelling, and his condemnation of the Senate bill accurate and complete.
The trouble is that the House GOP seems on the same path to do the same thing –nothing—vis-à-vis a fence.
On Thursday, I interviewed Republican Representative Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and a member of its subcommittee on border security. That subcommittee, and the committee as a whole, has passed a “border security bill.” That bill, H.R. 1416, doesn’t mandate a fence. In fact, it is worse than the Senate bill which at least paid lip service to the fence while not mandating it.
The transcript of my conversation with Congressman Barlettais here. But it really needs to belistened to, which can be done here. (Then listen to the parody of our conversation with the wonderful James Lileks.)
“[T]he border security bill that we passed in Homeland Security did not specify that a fence be built this year,” Congressman Barletta finally admitted after about a dozen questions on the subject.
And there’s the huge problem for the House GOP. It isn’t prepared to do what the vast majority of its base wants done –the simple first step to securing the southern border is to build a fence on the southern border. As Charles Krauthammer said to me on my show weeksago, “a fence from left to right, from east to west, except obviously themountainous areas.”
The House bill on border security that emerged from the Homeland Security Committee does not remotely approach that minimum goal. It is like trying to bake a cake without flour while pointing to all the ingredients for icing lining the counter-top. And voters know –they know—what is missing.
The House GOP may utterly fail to pass anything on immigration reform, which would be a mistake.
But it would be a much, much greater mistake if the party breaks faith with its base and does not pass a bill that specifically, unmistakably and unavoidably mandate a long, strong, double-layered fence along at least half of the southern border.
Any bill without such a fence is a fraud, and anyone proclaiming o be for border security by supporting a bill without such a fence is part of that fraud. It is that simple.