Conservatives eager for a comprehensive immigration reform bill to progress through the Senate know that it must, at a minimum, contain very explicit mandates concerning a very long border fence. The border is 2,000 miles long, and a good rule of thumb is that at least half of it is passable on foot, so the necessary language will mandate hundreds of miles of new, double-fencing with access roads –the sort of fencing that has been extremely effective wherever it has been built.
Opponents of fencing –those who prefer a much more permeable border and thus a third wave of illegal immigration to set up a third regularization down the road, or who simply do not understand the threats posed by an easily passed border– never say “No” to the fence, but they never say “Yes” either, and instead offer up a dozen different promises, guarantees, plans, whatever. All glop. All of it potentially transitory and easily manipulated.
A fence is very easy to see, very easy to track the construction of, and very difficult to “turn off” or redeploy –which can be done with various hi-tech border security solutions or increased numbers of border patrol agents.
The fence mandate –a real mandate, with funding, specified mapping and length, and authority to trump any conflicting law like the Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act or National Environmental Policy Act– is thus central to garnering sufficient conservative support to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That mandate wasn’t in the first Gang of 8 bill. It didn’t get added in the Judiciary Committee.
Senator Rubio –who continues to take the point on the debate and who is doing exactly what legislators in a representative government ought to do which is propose, engage, revise and amend– promised fencing would be coming in the amendments that would be offered on the floor.
Then Senator John Cornyn released a summary of his “border security” amendment package, and it doesn’t have a word about fencing in it. It is an absolute disaster, in fact, telegraphing as it does an intention to avoid the fence issue and try and trick the GOP base into believing border security is there when it isn’t there.
This is a political disaster as well as a policy pratfall. If the Senate GOP isn’t going to support a fence it should just say so, because then we can all understand that the Senate bill is simply not serious about border security, because the vast majority of people who care about border security understand that long, high double-sided fences work. They work. It is that simple. When Senator McCain campaigned for re-election in 2012 he did so with the slogan “Finish the dang fence.” He used that slogan because voters understand and want a fence.
It is close to infuriating to be condescended to by Beltway elites who simply will not answer the question on fencing. It seems that the House can get ready to kill this bill, because the Senate GOP seems to have surrendered the only thing huge numbers of conservatives wanted out of the deal. Opposition was already building, but the Senate bill is being managed in such a way as to guarantee a firestorm of anger about its provisions and a backlash against the GOP that allowed it to get to the House in such a form. I didn’t think it was possible for the Senate GOP to screw this up and with it the prospects for 2014 and beyond, but it is doing so.