Grand Rapids area representative Vern Ehlers and Holland area representative Peter Hoekstra voted last week in the House of Representatives to increase the militarization of the United States-Mexico border. The two representatives voted in support of the “Secure Fence Act of 2006” (HR 6061), marking the second time the two representatives voted in support of further militarization of the border in the past year, with the two voting in favor of HR 4437 in December of 2005. The West Michigan representatives were two of the 283 representatives voting in favor of the bill, which passed by a margin of 283 to 138. The Republican Party was nearly unanimous in their support of the bill with only six representatives voting in against it, while 64 Democrats voted with Republicans in support of the bill. Two Republican Michigan representatives, Republican Mike Rogers of Michigan’s 8th Congressional District and Republican Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan’s 11th Congressional District co-sponsored the bill. Both Rogers and McCotter also supported HR 4437 last fall.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 mandates the construction of 700-miles of double-layered fencing along the US-Mexico border near Tecate and Calexico, California, along most the Arizona-Mexico border, and in heavily populated areas of Texas and New Mexico. In addition to the physical fence, the bill calls for the “systematic surveillance” of the United States’ borders through a system of “unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras.” The physical and virtual walls that are to be constructed are a means of fulfilling the mandate outlined in the bill for the Department of Homeland Security to “achieve and maintain operational control” over all of the United States’ borders, with “operational control” being defined as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States.” The Act also requires the Department of Security to submit an annual report on efforts and progress made toward achieving and maintaining control of the United States’ borders. Despite mandating the construction of the border fence, there is no funding provided in the bill. Republicans say that the $2 billion they estimate is needed for the fence (Democrats estimate the cost at $7 billion) will be provided in future spending bills.
The bill essentially offers nothing new—the fence provisions were included in last year’s HR 4437—but House Republicans are attempting to pass small immigration “reform” bills such as this one in light of their failure to secure the passage of their version of immigration “reform” in the Senate. Despite a summer of organizing, Republicans were unable to make progress on changing elements of the immigration bill passed in May by the Senate. While that bill was somewhat less draconian than the House’s HR 4437 in that there were no provisions that sparked widespread public outcry such as the criminalization of those aiding undocumented immigrants, House Republicans were unsatisfied with the bill and major immigration legislation will not be passed before the November elections.