Bush Signs Off on Bill Funding More Border Patrol Agents

10-19-05 - The $32 billion homeland security bill President Bush signed Tuesday includes $5.6 billion for 1,000 Border Patrol agents as well as additional immigration agents and heightened technology and surveillance.

Congress approved the additional agents in an intelligence reform bill in December, but the agents were never funded. Both houses passed the bill earlier this month.

The agents are more than the 200 Bush called for in his budget and in addition to the 500 Border Patrol agents and 568 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents called for in the Iraq and Afghanistan spending bill that passed in May.

A number of Republicans have said they wouldn't consider Bush's proposal for a program allowing immigrants to work temporarily in the country until there was better border enforcement.

Bush administration officials touted his guest worker plan hours before the president signed the bill.

Also included in the border funding is $3.4 billion for ICE, to help pay for 250 criminal investigators and 100 immigration enforcement agents, and $41 million provided for technology and surveillance.

There is $40 million to help establish the REAL ID Act, which requires states to issue drivers licenses to legal immigrants or specially marked licenses to people who cannot prove they are in the country legally. The new law is opposed by several states because of its cost.

It gives $5 million for training local and state law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws.

Members of Texas' congressional delegation praised the funding but said more action would be needed to secure the border.

"Senator Hutchison worked hard to secure 1,500 new Border Patrol agents and is pleased President Bush has signed this important legislation into law," said Chris Paulitz, spokesman for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. "However, we need more bold initiatives to truly secure our borders."

Hutchison and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., in March sponsored legislation for 2,000 new Border Patrol agents.

"This is good, it's better than what we had before," U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz said, noting that there would now be 4,250 beds to detain illegal immigrants, which he said was still not enough.

"This involves the entire border, both on the Canadian side and the Mexican side. If we're going to do a good job, the first thing we need to do is send a signal that you're going to be caught, put in a detention center, and deported," he said.

Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, said he wondered if the funds would survive when budget cuts were made.

"Remember, they're going to come back and they're going to cut $50 billion from the budget we just passed," he said. "Is this going to stick? This is the big $64,000 question."