Border tour leaves imprint on Idaho Rep. Labrador

The congressman says tightening security isn’t enough to stem illegal immigration.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comAugust 7, 2013 

Congressman Raul Labrador says U.S. Border Patrol agents are doing an “awesome job using the best technology” but he’s more convinced than ever that state and local police should join the federal government in enforcing federal immigration law.

The Idaho Republican was back home Tuesday after a three-day official visit to California and Arizona. Labrador said drones, boats, fences, towers, tunnel detectors and personnel aren’t enough to stem illegal entry.

“You see all the money we’re spending at the border, and the great job these men and women are doing,” Labrador said. “And they’re still not stopping all the people coming in. It actually emphasizes the point that I’ve been making: We still need to have really strong interior enforcement. We have to go beyond throwing resources at the border and think about what we do in the interior.”

Labrador said his opposition to the reform bill passed 68-32 by the Senate, with 14 Republican ayes, is stronger after the trip. The Senate bill includes a $46 billion “border surge” to add almost 20,000 additional border patrol agents and build about 700 miles of fence.

The trip was led by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and four other GOP congressmen. Labrador met with Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher and the chief of the San Diego sector, Paul Beeson, as well as officials from the U.S. Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security and San Diego Harbor Police. Labrador skipped the final leg of the tour in Texas.

Current U.S. law empowers only the federal government to enforce immigration law; Labrador says immigration reform should change that.

“When I talked to these men and women, I asked them the same question: How would you feel if your local police departments and sheriff’s offices actually had the ability to help you with illegal immigration? They were all very positive about that idea,” Labrador said. “There are only 5,000 ICE agents in the entire United States. They can’t deal with this issue themselves.”

The Judiciary Committee in the Republican-controlled House passed a bill extending enforcement authority to local law enforcement. But Labrador acknowledged the idea is unpopular with Democrats, who control the Senate.

Labrador said he’s still optimistic about passing legislation this year, but said a minority of House Republicans won’t vote for reform, meaning Democrats will be necessary to win in the House.

“The question is whether what we do — which won’t be good enough for some Democrats — will be good enough for them to at least vote for it,” Labrador said. “And I’m not sure that we’re there.”

Labrador said he welcomes input from more than 100 Republican business leaders, including Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot of Idaho Falls, who wrote Labrador and other congressional Republicans last week urging support for reform with a path to citizenship.

“I have a lot of respect for Frank,” Labrador said. “We want to do it right. I think it’s a mistake for us to just do anything just for the sake of politics.”

Labrador’s tour included a helicopter flight over 51 miles along the Arizona-Sonora border and the spot where a small memorial honors Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Terry was murdered in 2010 and two of the guns found at the site were from the botched “Operation Fast and Furious” gun-tracking effort. Labrador has aggressively criticized the program, calling for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder.

“One of the most poignant moments was flying right over that area where Brian Terry was shot,” Labrador said. “It’s really in the middle of nowhere. These mountains look like Afghanistan. It’s really mountainous, rocky and very difficult to traverse.”

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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