A Senate committee signed off on a plan for hiring thousands of new Border Patrol officers while eliminating a plan to build 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico divide.
The Judiciary Committee agreed on a plan to add roughly 10,000 agents to the ranks of Customs and Border Protection over the next five years. It also adopted an amendment from Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to replace old fences only in high-population areas along the Arizona border, and required the detention of non-Mexican immigrants caught illegally crossing the border, ending the so-called “catch and release” policy.
Kyl’s proposal includes funding for the increased use of technology such as video cameras and infrared sensors to stop border-crossers, rather than extending the 15-foot-high fencing already in place in San Diego and elsewhere.
Senators had clashed over whether the 700 miles of fencing would be an effective deterrent to would-be illegal immigrants. Texas Republican John Cornyn said such a barrier would cost billions of dollars and send a “dramatically negative message” about the nation’s attitude toward its neighbors.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said he supported the idea of a fence along the border. The technology components are just a “detection device,” and not a true barrier, he said.
The vehicle barriers in the amendment adopted Thursday would be concrete and steel posts spaced several feet apart. The barriers—many of which are already in place along the border—stop cars from crossing but cause less disruption to wildlife than a fence would.
The committee also adopted an amendment requiring the detention of non-Mexican illegal immigrants caught crossing the border. Under the “catch and release” policy, those border-crossers were released with an order requiring them to appear at an immigration hearing, because detention facilities are typically too full to hold them all. Supporters said it would close a loophole that allows illegal immigrants to ignore those court appearances and slip into the country undetected.