Santorum Favors 'Border Security First' Immigration Plan

July 7, 2008 - 8:31 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Mexico's government has been complicit in exacerbating illegal migration into the United States, said U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who favors a "border security first" approach to immigration reform in contrast to his opponent in the Nov. 7 election.

Santorum told Cybercast News Service that "the Mexican government has been completely irresponsible on the question of illegal immigration." Moreover, he believes Mexican officials are complicit in encouraging illegal entry in the U.S. along the southern border.

Other lawmakers share this assessment. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) told Cybercast News Service that the Mexican government has printed up pamphlets outlining points of illegal entry into the U.S. Poe also blamed the outgoing Mexican president.

"Vicente Fox has not been an ally in preventing illegal immigration into the U.S.," Poe said. "He's part of the problem, and he's exporting his problems and making them our problems."

Mexico's new president, Felipe Calderon, who takes office Dec. 1, has been critical of the "border security first" approach favored by Santorum and House Republicans. Calderon has said construction of border security fences would likely produce more deaths along the border while doing little to curtail illegal immigration.

As previously reported by Cybercast News Service, House Republicans were particularly critical of a provision in the Senate bill that would make border fencing conditional upon consultation with the Mexican government.

Santorum joined with the majority of U.S. senators in voting to pass legislation earlier this month that provides for 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border. The measure passed by a margin of 80 to 19.

The Mexican government is lobbying President Bush to veto the measure.

A statement released on the Mexican Embassy's website says the border security legislation that has now passed both houses of Congress is ill-advised because it will result in physical barriers that "cause strain in the border communities and detachment instead of convergence between the two countries."

Bush has already signed off on a homeland security bill that provides funding for the security fence. Although the president still supports a "comprehensive approach" to immigration reform, White House officials say the president plans to sign off on the security fence.

In May, the Senate voted to pass a "comprehensive" immigration bill (S. 2611) sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). The measure included a guest worker program favored by President Bush. However, Santorum said the bill contains too many "amnesty" provisions that in his view rewarded illegal behavior.

Specifically, Santorum was critical of provisions in the bill that he said would enable illegal aliens to collect government benefits, including Social Security.

"The amnesty provisions are referred to as a change in status," Santorum told Cybercast News Service. "I know a lot of prisoners that would like to have 'a change in status.'"

In addition to the new fencing, Santorum also supports measures that would increase the number of border agents, expand detention facilities and employ new technologies along the border.

Santorum is facing a tough re-election fight this fall against state Treasurer Robert Casey, son of the late Gov. Robert P. Casey. The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll shows the Democratic challenger leading Santorum by 14 points among registered voters.

Casey has expressed support for the Senate's comprehensive approach and denies Santorum's claim that the legislation translates into amnesty.

Some political analysts say Santorum's ardent support for tighter border security could translate into political dividends in a state where the rising costs associated with illegal immigration has antagonized taxpayers.

This past summer, the city council of Hazleton, Pa., passed an ordinance favored by Mayor Lou Barletta that imposes penalties on employers who hire illegal aliens and landlords who provide housing for them.

Other localities throughout the country looking to crack down on illegal immigration have used the Hazelton legislation as a model. Most recently, the city council in Escondido, Calif., passed a similar law.

The Pennsylvania Chapter of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund to challenge the Hazleton measure.

"I think the mayor is simply reflecting the attitude of the town," Santorum told Cybercast News Service. "The town is feeling very overwhelmed by a group of people who have come in recently."

Santorum also said the recent influx of illegal immigration to the town has spurred gang and criminal activity.

"Immigration could be a determining issue in Pennsylvania," said John Keeley, director of communication for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). He pointed out that Santorum's radio and TV spots have placed a particular emphasis on stricter enforcement of existing immigration laws and tighter border security measures.

An upset victory by Santorum would provide even further evidence for the high priority average Americans attach to immigration reform, Keeley said, since Pennsylvania is only 4 percent foreign-born.

But Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, is less certain about the connection between a tough stance on border security and electoral advantage. He feels immigration is among a "mix of issues" that resonate with voters and could be easily overshadowed by other concerns that benefit the Democratic candidate.

Repeated phone calls to the Casey campaign seeking comment on immigration policy were not returned.

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