House Passes Homeland Security Measures

Article excerpt

The House of Representatives passed three bills last week related to homeland security, hiring and alerts, appropriations and first responders.

After five hours of debate, by a vote of 424-4, the House passed H.R. 1817--a bill to authorize $34.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security for the hiring of 2,000 new border patrol agents in fiscal year 2006, creation of a more targeted alert system with specific warnings to replace the current color-coded terror threat level and improvement of intelligence sharing.

NLC opposed a provision in the authorizing legislation that says that local law enforcement have "inherent authority" to enforce immigration laws, even without a memorandum of understanding between the localities and the Department of Justice.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.), would provide training manuals to state and local officials on the detention of illegal immigrants.

Norwood said his amendment was necessary to clear up confusion regarding local law enforcement and the enforcement of immigration laws.

"Law enforcement officers and agencies need some assurance from us that they can take appropriate action with authority when the laws are broken," he said.

Opponents to the Norwood amendment, such as Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, pointed out that, "State and local law enforcements already enforce criminal laws and already have authority to report criminals who are foreign nationals to the Department of Homeland Security and to assist the federal government in criminal investigations."

NLC policy opposes the shifting of costs and responsibilities of immigration law enforcement to local governments.

In its communication to Congress, NLC pointed out that local law enforcement routinely assists the federal government by apprehending, housing and feeding non-documented criminal suspects in local jails until federal agents are dispatched to retrieve the individuals.

Also adopted was an amendment to H.R. 1817 that would authorize $40 million to help state and local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws.

NLC is concerned that the federal government is forcing local governments to assume the responsibility for enforcing immigration laws in addition to its traditional public safety functions and the responsibilities of securing the homeland.

In lobbying against the immigration-related amendments, NLC noted there was no guarantee that the authorized dollars in the bills would ever be fully appropriated, pointing to a Bureau of Justice Assistance study that found local and state governments received no more than 35 percent of the costs related to the detainment of non-documented persons in fiscal year 2003. …