Hunter seeks border security plan

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has found an opportune platform to push the construction of fences along the U.S. border to keep out illegal immigrants as the Bush administration moves forward on its plan to use National Guard troops at the southwestern border.

Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, supports the idea of deploying the Guard to the border to build “much-needed infrastructure,” Hunter’s spokesperson said. While a fence is not the sole solution to the immigration problem, it plays a very important part, the aide said.

Late last week, as rumors of President Bush’s plan to deploy National Guard troops to the border with Mexico started emerging, Hunter sent a memo to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld urging him to have the National Guard build a 37-mile-long fence at a Marine base in Yuma, Ariz. The Marine Corps Air Station Yuma lost more than 55 training days in 2005 because of the presence of illegal immigrants on the training range coming from Mexico, Hunter argued.

In 2005, about 17,467 undocumented aliens entered the Barry M. Goldwater Range. Hunter wrote in the memo that 1,500 of those illegal immigrants were not from Mexico and that some were from countries with suspected terrorism connections.

“I urge that this effort be started as soon as possible in order to have the fencing in place for the summer months,” Hunter wrote. “To expedite I recommend utilizing a combination of National Guardsmen who have been working on the fencing project in San Diego and companies from the private sector who have the necessary resources to construct quickly.”

Hunter gave as an example the 70-mile border fence at San Diego. Ten miles of that consists of 14-foot-high steel mesh and a 2.5-foot overhang. “This design has proven 100 percent effective in preventing fence-climbing by undocumented aliens and vehicular drive-throughs,” Hunter wrote.

And he urged the Pentagon as it considered its role in combating illegal immigration to “immediately” construct the fence at Yuma.

In the 2007 defense authorization bill that the House passed last week, Hunter included a provision that called on the Pentagon to spend “no less than $2 million” to “design plan, deploy and rehabilitate fencing at the Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Arizona.” The provision also addresses completing a border fence near San Diego, as well as the design of a 15-mile-long fence on either side of Laredo, Texas.

Out of 400,000 Guardsmen nationwide, an estimated 54,000 are deployed in support of Bush’s war on terrorism. That leaves enough guardsmen to get the job done, Hunter’s aide said. Several lawmakers have been skeptical about deploying the National Guard to the border because the Guard has been facing strain both in its ranks and in its equipment.

Hunter also crafted an amendment to the immigration bill with Reps. Virgil Goode (R-Va.), David Dreier (R-Calif.), Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.) that would require that more than 700 miles of security fencing be built in five strategic locations.

The House also voted on a Goode amendment last week that would authorize the use of Pentagon personnel to secure the southern border.

Meanwhile, some House Republicans expressed skepticism and opposition to Bush’s speech Monday night encouraging Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

Members were divided both on the need and the feasibility of including guest-worker language in a potential compromise bill between the House and Senate. The House-passed bill does have provisions on a guest-worker program.

“I understand the president’s position,” House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters yesterday. “I’ve made it very clear that I support the House position.”

Before becoming majority leader, Boehner voted against the House immigration reform bill.

Boehner refused to state his personal opinion on the issue, and he declined to speculate about whether the president’s speech boosted support for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.

“There is strong, silent support for a worker program,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who favors a guest-worker program that would have no effect on workers applying for citizenship.

In anticipation of Senate action on an immigration bill they oppose, Republican Reps. Mike McCaul (Texas), Patrick McHenry (N.C.), Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and John Sullivan (Okla.) scheduled a press conference today with representatives from the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

In a steady stream of press statements reacting to the president’s prime-time address, Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was the only member of House leadership to reject outright Bush’s call for a guest-worker program.

Other backers of an expanded guest-worker plan are confident that guest-worker legislation would pass if it would receive a vote on the floor.

Citing a recent National Journal Insiders poll in which a majority of the Republicans surveyed favored comprehensive immigration reform, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said members are reluctant to voice support for a broader bill because the politics are working against them.

“Not many [members] dare speak up because they don’t want a primary,” Flake said.