Five Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee who frequently rail against government spending voted to increase federal appropriations on border security by an undetermined billions of dollars during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s mark-up of the bipartisan senate immigration bill on Thursday, agreeing to deploy twice as many border agents to the South Western border than “will be on the ground in Afghanistan at the start of 2014.” The measure failed in a vote of 5 to 13.
The debate came during consideration of an amendment offered by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to triple the number of border patrol agents on the border and quadruple the technological infrastructure. The measure, which would have delayed the path to legalization for the nations 11.1 million by almost 10 years, could have required as much as $60 billion in additional government spending.
“We’re talking $30 or $40 billion to do that,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) , a member of the Gang of 8, who voted against the measure, warned. “That’s a substantial sum. It would take a lot of time. Border patrol says it would take at least 10 years to hire, to contract and to deploy these resources…We have fiscal restraints here.”
Border security has improved significantly since Congress last considered immigration reform. The federal government spent $18 billion — more than on every other federal law enforcement agencies combine — to secure the border during the 2012 fiscal year and has now exceeded the goals and targets set out in the failed 2007 immigration legislation. Border Patrol has deployed 21,000 agents to the border and the government has built 650 miles of fencing in the last 8 years.
The proposal offered by Gang of 8 will expand security further. The Secretary of Homeland Security will submit a comprehensive border security plan and the bill appropriates $3 billion to implement the strategy. The government can also spend billions more for priorities like fencing, more funding for customs agents, border crossings prosecutions, and additional patrol stations.
“I would like to be the governor of one of those states or the company that makes the drones or helicopters,” Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) joked before the committee voted on Cruz’s amendment. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Cruz all supported the increase in government spending. The amendment itself didn’t specify the cost of the increased resources to the border, noting only that “Any amounts appropriated…shall be offset by an equal reduction in the amounts appropriated for other purposes.”