Defense bill attracts potential border security additions

Proposed amendments seek billions to deter illegal immigrants from entering the country.

Border security and immigration issues took center stage Wednesday during the first full day of Senate debate on the fiscal 2007 Defense appropriations bill, with members angling to add billions of dollars to deter immigrants from illegally entering the country.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., proposed an amendment that would designate $4 billion in emergency spending to pay for 500 additional border patrol agents and 800 new immigration and customs enforcement officials, as well as 1,300 detention beds, physical barriers, Coast Guard equipment and other items.

The amendment comes a week after Cornyn, Kyl and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., called on President Bush to send Congress an emergency supplemental request to fully cover the cost of border security priorities.

"The amount of money proposed by the senator is truly an emergency," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., one of the amendment's supporters. The language will "ensure that border security becomes meaningful, becomes real."

Cornyn argued that the funding for enforcement programs will "increase the credibility of the federal government" and spark a successful House-Senate conference on immigration, which has yet to begin.

In a separate amendment, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., proposed adding $1.8 billion to the Defense bill to construct 370 miles of triple-layered fencing and 460 miles of vehicle barriers along the southwest border.

"That is not a small amount of money, but it is a manageable amount of money," Sessions said. "We ought to be able to find a couple of billion dollars to follow through on a commitment we've made."

The Senate Wednesday afternoon approved Sessions' amendment 94-3 with a vote on the Cornyn-Kyl proposal pending.