WASHINGTON – A border security bill that has been delayed for months will get a vote in the Senate and is expected to pass overwhelmingly despite the objections of the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman.
The $3 billion measure that would add border patrol and tighten visa restrictions, already has 61 co-sponsors, more than enough to pass the 100-member Senate.
Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., however, opposes the measure because it makes changes in border security while the Bush administration and Congress are in the midst of overhauling the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Byrd, a strict Constitutionalist, also thinks the Senate rules will not allow enough debate before passage. He told a Judiciary subcommittee in a rare Friday hearing that it would be a "charade, a joke" to pass the bill without giving the Senate a chance to amend it or even talk about the measure.
As it is written now, the bill would add 1,000 new INS inspectors, investigative personnel and support staff to America's borders; require companies to disclose passenger and crew information on all flights and vessels before entering the United States; lift the 45-minute time limit on INS inspection of passengers on international flights and ban foreigners from countries on America's terrorist watch list from getting U.S. visas.
The bill also requires machine-readable, tamper-resistant travel documents for foreigners wanting to enter the country. It requires universities to keep better track of foreign students, including checking and informing the government when and where prospective students arrive and when they are expected to graduate or when they quit school.
"There is no question that even if we pass this legislation, it would still be possible for a terrorist to sneak into this country and do something wrong," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. "But if we pass this law and get it effective immediately, we can at least reduce substantially the probability that terrorists such as those who came here prior to Sept. 11 will ever be able to do that again."
"The security concerns addressed by this legislation cannot be ignored, action cannot be postponed and the cost is reasonable," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Last month, the House passed a similar version to the bill and attached it to a bill that would allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the United States while their residency paperwork is processed. House leaders thought the bill would have a better chance of passing the Senate if it were attached since Senate leaders already approved the immigration waiver.
But Byrd opposes the immigration portion of the bill, forcing senators to separate the measures in the hope it would convince Byrd to approve the border security bill.
Byrd did not say he would oppose the bill altogether.
"I may support the bill, depending on what it looks like when we vote on it," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.