Less than two months after voting overwhelmingly to build 370 miles of new fencing along the border with Mexico, the Senate yesterday voted against providing funds to build it.
“We do a lot of talking. We do a lot of legislating,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican whose amendment to fund the fence was killed on a 71-29 vote. “The things we do often sound very good, but we never quite get there.”
Mr. Sessions offered his amendment to authorize $1.8 billion to pay for the fencing that the Senate voted 83-16 to build along high-traffic areas of the border with Mexico. In the same vote on May 17, the Senate also directed 500 miles of vehicle barriers to be built along the border.
But the May vote simply authorized the fencing and vehicle barriers, which on Capitol Hill is a different matter from approving the federal expenditures needed to build it.
“If we never appropriate the money needed to construct these miles of fencing and vehicle barriers, those miles of fencing and vehicle barriers will never actually be constructed,” Mr. Sessions told his colleagues yesterday before the vote.
Virtually all Democrats were joined by the chamber’s lone independent and 28 Republicans in opposing Mr. Session’s amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations Act. Only two Democrats—Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware—supported funding the fence.
All told, 34 senators—including most of the Republican leadership—voted in May to build the fence but yesterday opposed funding it.
Mr. Sessions said that if his colleagues were serious about building the fence that they promised, they would find the funding.
To prove his point, Mr. Sessions offered another amendment, which appropriated another $85.7 million to enable Homeland Security to hire 800 more full-time investigators to probe immigration-law violations. The vote against that amendment was 66-34.
Kris Kobach, who was a counsel to the attorney general under John Ashcroft, told a House subcommittee last week that one of the most unusual aspects of the Senate bill is a provision—slipped into the more-than-800-page bill moments before the final vote—that would require the United States to consult with the Mexican government before constructing the fencing.
“I know of no other provision in U.S. law where the federal government requires state and local governments—every state and local government on the border—to consult with state and local governments of a foreign power before the federal government can act,” he said.