BY RAFAEL BERNAL
The House Homeland Security Committee approved Wednesday a border security bill that includes $10 billion for a border wall.
The Border Security for America Act, proposed by committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), was passed on a party-line 18-12 vote.
The bill includes the $10 billion in border wall funding, $5 billion to improve ports of entry and adds 5,000 agents to both the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.
The legislation would also authorize the federal government to reimburse states up to $35 million for use of National Guard assets to reinforce border security.
The legislation will head to the House floor amid debate over whether border security provisions should be attached to potential legislation to protect recipients of the rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Democrats criticized the bill as a political stunt to appease President Trump, who proposed the border wall as a central point of his campaign.
“There was a time in the not too far distant past when this committee cared for facts, data and results,” said ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).
Thompson called the Republican proposal an attempt to “fulfill a misguided campaign promise.”
McCaul praised Trump’s focus on border security and urged the committee to seize the opportunity to legislate on the issue.
“We finally have a partner in the White House who has prioritized this issue, and it’s time for Congress to do its job,” he said.
While the bill is expected to pass the House, it’s unlikely to clear the Senate, where it needs a 60-vote majority.
But Democrats are wary that the bill’s provisions could be the first shot at a Republican proposal for border security measures on a bill to protect so-called Dreamers – undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children – in the wake of Trump’s rescission of DACA.
“There’s no doubt that this is a setup for that conversation,” said Rep. Nannette Barragán (D-Calif.), a committee member.
To show their disdain for the idea of building a border wall, the bill’s central tenet, Democratic committee members proposed tongue-in-cheek amendments.
Thompson proposed changing the bill’s name to “Taking Americans’ Land to Build Trump’s Wall Act of 2017,” and Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) proposed a definition of “border wall” that would include the terms “big and beautiful,” “real,” “inclusive of a door” and “paid for by the Mexican Government.”
Vela also made a proposal to withhold wall construction funds until Mexico agreed to reimburse them, alluding to Trump’s campaign pledge to get Mexico to pay for a border wall.
“I appreciate the gentleman’s creativity in this amendment and sense of humor, but I will oppose this amendment,” said McCaul.
But debate centered on the impact of the border wall on border communities and the environment on the border.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) made two proposals to protect the environment; Democrats said they were good in spirit but opposed them because they require no oversight of the secretary of Homeland Security.
None of the Democratic proposals were accepted, but an amendment put forth by Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) was unanimously accepted.
Her proposal would force a substantial part of investments in border security, such as control centers, to be installed in the border, rather than remotely.
“It’s a good amendment and we support it,” said Thompson, ending debate on the matter.
Still, Democrats were incensed that a $15 billion proposal that includes measures they deem unnecessary would see a House vote before relief for Dreamers or for victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria gets a vote.
“To waste this money on basically a campaign promise is pretty disgusting,” said Barragán.