(CNSNews.com) - Wasting no time on an issue of concern to many voters, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill that would fence 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border.
H.R. 6061, the "Secure Fence Act of 2006," calls for a double-layered fence to protect about a third of the long and porous border.
A similar provision was included in a larger bill that the House passed last December, but with that bill stalled because of differences with Senate legislation, Republican leaders are forging ahead on their own.
"Every year, nearly one million illegal immigrants cross into America," Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert said in a news release announcing passage of the bill.
"This is a clear threat to our safety. Some of these people are coming for work, but countless others are drug dealers, gang members and some are even terrorists. That is why building this fence is common sense. And if we build the fence, it will be harder for them to come here illegally."
The Secure Fence Act passed on a vote of 283-138, with 131 Democrats voting against the measure -- something that should concern the American people, Hastert said. "They don't want border security; instead they would rather jeopardize our national security and put Americans at risk," he said.
Democrats, for their part, say Republicans are the ones who are obstructing immigration reform because they refuse to accept a "comprehensive" Senate plan that would give illegal aliens a path to citizenship as well as secure the border.
On Thursday, a number of Democrats dismissed the House border-fence bill as a political ploy to impress voters before they go to the polls.
But House Republicans insist that border security is a key element of national security and must come before other immigration "reforms." Many Republicans reject what they call "amnesty" plans for people who sneak into the country without going through legal immigration channels.
Hastert said House Republicans are now consulting with the Senate on the best ways to boost border enforcement, aside from a fence.
"The time to address this border security emergency is now -- before Congress leaves for the November elections," Hastert said.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) was one of the many Republicans who voted for the bill.
"The current porous nature of our border is an open invitation to disaster," Smith said in a news release. "Terrorists are looking for any weakness to exploit in their efforts to attack Americans at home and we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this threat."
Smith says statistics show that illegal incursions have dropped significantly along a 14-mile stretch of the San Diego-Mexico border that has a fence. Smith said that fence has helped reduce illegal immigrant apprehensions from approximately 200,000 in 1992 to about 9,000 in 2005.
"Border security is a fundamental and absolutely critical component of our national security and a basic responsibility of the United States as a sovereign nation. Today's vote is a critical step in our renewed efforts to focus on the security deficiencies at our borders and push the Senate to act on security measures," Smith said.
Republicans say in the weeks ahead, they will work on legislation to increase border enforcement, crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and help states and communities enforce immigration laws.
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