In the last Congress, Houston-area congressman and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul did the unthinkable: He ushered an immigration bill through his committee, earning not only bipartisan but unanimous support from its members.
He hasn’t had as much success with his latest effort in the early weeks of the 114th Congress.
McCaul’s Secure the Borders First Act, which the chairman has called the “toughest border security bill ever before Congress,” passed out of committee last week on a party-line vote of 18-12.
The legislation would mandate the deployment of border security assets, including technology and infrastructure, establish metrics for the department to measure its effectiveness and set a timetable for the Department of Homeland Security secretary to gain “operational control” — meaning an end to illegal entries — on the nation’s southern border.
It would also require DHS to implement a biometric exit system at all ports of entry to address visa overstays, give border patrol agents access to federal lands and penalize DHS political appointees if required metrics are not met.
McCaul’s measure appears to possess all the markings of a bill worth Republican support.
And it’s already earned the contempt of DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, who called it “extreme to the point of being unworkable.”
But the bill has also garnered criticism from the GOP — for not being tough enough, failing to address the Obama administration’s executive actions.
The legislation is imperfect. Some critics have called it overly prescriptive — DHS would need more latitude in enforcing border policy. But some of the bill’s blemishes could be addressed in committees of jurisdiction or on the House floor.
Republican leaders have been clear that immigration reform will be piecemeal, beginning with border security — hence McCaul’s appropriately titled bill.
Without more willingness for compromise in both parties, the immigration debate may be over just as it begins — again.