We can't blame Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. for trying to mend fences with his constituents. But we hope he has not relented and joined forces with those who think that a fence is all that's needed to solve the nation's immigration woes.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation sponsored by Graham to spend $3 billion in emergency funds to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border. Among other things, Graham's amendment to a $37.6 billion homeland security bill will provide full funding for 700 miles of fencing on the southern border.
Graham clearly is trying to repair his standing with Republican activists who were dead set against a comprehensive immigration reform measure the senator had co-sponsored and fought hard for during a rancorous debate earlier this summer. Opponents objected primarily to portions of the bill that would have given illegal immigrants already in this country a way to become legal citizens, which opponents labeled as amnesty.
Graham had become so closely associated with the reform measure that some began calling it the "Grahamnesty" bill. Some polls indicated that more than 60 percent of his constituents in the state opposed the bill, and talk was rampant about mounting a primary challenge to Graham in the fall.
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Meanwhile, South Carolina's other Republican senator, Jim DeMint, prospered politically by joining the vocal opposition to the original bill. While he did not co-sponsor Graham's recent bill, he strongly supported it.
In addition to funding the fence, the bill also would provide the money to hire 23,000 more Customs and Border Patrol agents, construct 300 miles of vehicle barriers, and buy 105 ground-based radar systems and four unmanned aerial reconnaissance drones. The bill also requires the Department of Homeland Security to set up an entry-exit system at all U.S. ports of entry; bars gang members from crossing the border; mandates an electronic employment verification system to end the hiring of unlawful aliens; and makes being in the country illegally a misdemeanor offense.
Some of that will be hard to carry out. Even those who supported the bill are skeptical that the government can establish a data-sharing system between federal and state agencies that will screen out undocumented workers.
Likewise, prohibitions against gang members may be hard to enforce. How will U.S. officials identify gang members? Will even those who have renounced gang activity be barred? This provision might look good on paper but is likely to be largely worthless in reality.
We continue to believe that the idea of fencing off the border is ludicrous. Those who desperately want to enter the United States will find a way over, under or around the fence. Plus, nearly half of those who here illegally did not enter by crossing the border; they merely overstayed their visas.
Nonetheless, we have no problem with beefing up border enforcement, especially when that means hiring more customs and border patrol agents. But we hope those such as Sen. Graham, who championed a broader approach to this issue, including a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants, don't stop at border security.
While enforcement is an important component of any immigration reform effort, it is not the whole answer. And those who think it is are dreaming.
Lindsay Graham's new and successful immigration bill focuses entirely on security measures.
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