House Votes to Build 700 Miles of Fence Along Border
By RACHEL L. SWARNS
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - House Republicans voted on Thursday night to toughen a border security bill by requiring the Department of Homeland Security to build five fences along 698 miles of the United States border with Mexico to block the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs into this country.
The amendment to the bill would require the construction of the fences along stretches of land in California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona that have been deemed among the most porous corridors of the border.
The vote on the amendment was a victory for conservatives who had long sought to build such a fences along the Mexican border. But the vote was sharply assailed by Democrats, who compared the fences to the Berlin Wall in Germany. Twelve Republicans also voted against the amendment.
Representative David Dreier, Republican of California, hailed the fences as a necessary tool to ensure border security. Construction of the barriers is to include two layers of reinforced fencing, cameras, lighting and sensors near Tecate and Calexico on the California border; Columbus, N.M.; and El Paso, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Laredo and Brownsville in Texas.
The border security bill, which cracks down on illegal immigration and now mandates the construction of the fences, is expected to pass the House on Friday.
"Border fences are a security tool with proven results," Mr. Dreier said. "This amendment allows us to target our federal resources where they are needed most: five specific border crossings with the highest number of immigrant deaths, instances of drug smuggling and illegal crossings.
The vote on the amendment came on a day when the tough border security bill survived an unexpected tactical challenge from several Republicans. The bill was criticized by some moderates because it does not grant millions of undocumented workers the right to work temporarily in the United States and by some conservatives who argued that the measure was not tough enough.
The unusual revolt highlighted the schism within the Republican Party over the volatile issue of immigration. Business leaders, traditional allies of the party, have lobbied fiercely against the bill, which contains strict employment verification requirements that many executives view as a burden.
Republican leaders stamped out the rebellion after an emergency meeting. But one Republican, Jim Kolbe of Arizona, said he and his allies would continue to try to stop the bill, which has been endorsed by the Republican leadership and some conservatives but attacked by business executives, church leaders and advocates for immigrants.
The bill would require mandatory detention of many immigrants, stiffen the penalties for employers who hire them and broaden the immigrant-smuggling statute to include employees of social service agencies and church groups who offer services to undocumented workers.
It would not create the temporary guest worker program that President Bush has urged to legalize the status of the 11 million illegal immigrants believed to be living in this country.
Seeking to sink the legislation, several Republicans took the tactical step on Thursday of voting against a rule that had to pass to allow the measure to go up for a vote. Some conservatives, who felt the bill was not tough enough, also voted against the rule.
"Unfortunately, the bill before us today does nothing to solve the real problems of immigration," Mr. Kolbe told lawmakers. "But we are going to go down this path, continue this charade, continue lying to the American people, continue pretending we are doing something to prevent illegal immigration."
In addition to Mr. Kolbe, six other Republicans voted against the rule: Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan, Christopher Shays of Connecticut, Jim Leach of Iowa, Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, and John Hostettler of Indiana.
Mr. Kolbe spoke as faxed letters from the United States Chamber of Commerce warned lawmakers that in its annual ratings of members of Congress, it would penalize any legislator who voted for the rule that would allow the measure to go to the floor for a vote.
By midafternoon, the party's leaders had beaten back the challenge, at least for the day. Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin, sharply criticized those expressing support for what many conservatives describe as an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
"This bill doesn't give amnesty to illegal aliens and it shouldn't because that would reward someone for breaking our laws," said Mr. Sensenbrenner, who had introduced the border security bill.
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