Wall Street Journal
By Laura Meckler
December 3, 2014
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is vowing to push border security legislation early next year, and says passage could open the door to Republican bills creating a new guest-worker program and adding visas for high-tech workers.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said in an interview Wednesday that his committee will soon consider a “tough border security bill” and hopes it will be on the House floor as early as late January or February. An aide added that House GOP leaders have asked him to make sure the legislation is ready for action by then.
A spokesman for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who sets the floor schedule, said no decisions have been made about next year. But someone close to Mr. McCarthy said that a border security bill will be a “big priority” for the next Congress.
Mr. McCaul’s planning comes as most House Republicans are focused on trying to stop President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. The most controversial element of the Obama move offers a temporary reprieve from deportation and work permits to some 4 million illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements.
Mr. Obama has said he took unilateral steps in the face of congressional inaction on immigration and has repeatedly challenged Republicans to send him legislation.
The bill Mr. McCaul contemplates is far from what the president is seeking. It is limited to border security, whereas Mr. Obama wants a broad overhaul including the chance for all 11 million people in the U.S. illegally to obtain permanent legal status.
In the past, it has been politically challenging to move discrete slices of immigration legislation because members of Congress would insist that other aspects be attached. In particular, Democrats have insisted that a solution for the 11 million illegal immigrants be included in any border security package. But that dynamic may change next year with Republicans running both the House and Senate.
Movement on border security would give life to Republican promises—repeatedly issued but never acted upon—to tackle immigration in a step-by-step fashion.
“We need to reform our immigration laws, but we need to do it the right way, and that means starting the process in the lawmaking branch of our government,” Mr. McCaul said at a hearing of his committee on Tuesday. “Congress will address immigration reform.”
He said his new border bill differs from one his committee passed unanimously last year. The earlier measure directed the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a plan. The new bill will be more prescriptive, he said, and lay out directives for each sector of the Southern border.
He said that in some cases, that will mean more technology, including military aviation assets redeployed from Afghanistan, as well as sensor surveillance technology.
“We don’t want to say we’re militarizing the border but we want to take concepts from defense and assets from defense that we can use down there under the civilian control,” he said. “We’ve got the fencing already in place. It’s the technology that’s a vulnerability gap.”
He said the plan is based on a blueprint he released in October, and he expects it to cost about $1 billion in the first year. He said one way to offset that new spending is through changes to border patrol compensation.
He said he has talked with Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), who is in line to become chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, about both border security and a guest-worker program, and plans to work closely with him.
Mr. McCaul said he hoped that Congress would tackle other immigration issues, including a guest-worker program and more visas for high-skilled workers, if border legislation can pass first. But he said he does not see support for legalization of people in the U.S. illegally.
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