The House Homeland Security Committee passed the Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015 yesterday. The Act will be introduced in the House today.

“This is probably the strongest border security bill ever presented to the Congress,” Homeland Security Committee Chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul, told Fox News yesterday.

The bill’s stated purpose is, “to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to gain and maintain operational control of the international borders of the United States.”

The Homeland Security Committee released the following to promote the bill:

“It’s the fundamental responsibility of the government to ensure the territory of this nation is secure against any illicit entry and concealed threats, and on that account the government has failed consistently. Despite billions of dollars and decades of policy debates, the border is not secure,” McCaul said in a statement.

Holding DHS Accountable

Facing numerous roadblocks to thwarting President Obama’s executive immigration overreach by tightening the purse strings, the Secure Our Borders First Act seems to have found a way to force accountability, at least on the border. The bill seeks to hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable by imposing penalties for noncompliance.

Citing the bipartisan border security bill that was passed last Congress but largely ignored by DHS, McCaul pointed out that DHS’s response to the bill was a PR tour that insisted the borders were secure.

Each tenet of the bill comes with a finite deadline for agency and department officials. Should DHS fail to meet the stringent deadlines, no political appointee of the DHS would be allowed travel by government aircraft, or receive any non-essential training, bonus pay, or raises until deadlines have been satisfied.

A Small Government Solution?

While border security advocates will likely be pleased with the bill’s mechanisms designed to encourage DHS acquiescence, small government advocates might balk at the government expansion required for extensive border enforcement measures.

Creating New Commissions

“The time to rely on the Department or this administration to measure border security progress has come and gone,” said McCaul, “it is time for Congress to lead and through this legislation, we tell the Department and the administration how to get this job done once and for all.”

H.R. 399 creates a Border Security Verification Commission that will ensure DHS is taking requisite measures to secure our borders. The purpose of the BSVC is to, “certify the accuracy of the notifications regarding situational awareness and operational control.” Compensation for serving on the BSVC is strictly prohibited.

The BSVC would consist of five presidential appointees, two from DHS and the other three from recommendations from yet another newly created commission — the Special Congressional Commission on Border Security. The Speaker of the House, House minority leader, Senate majority and minority leaders, Chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs make up the last commission.

What Border Security Would Look Like

The Secure Our Borders First Act divides up the borders by sectors to best assess the risks and needs of each area. Security measures would vary by location as a result.

For example, the Rio Grande Valley sector would see deployable, lighter than air ground surveillance equipment, increased flight hours for aerial detection, interdiction and monitoring operations capability, ultralight aircraft detection capability, advanced unattended surveillance sensors, increased monitoring for cross-river dams, culverts, footpaths.

Central to every border security discussion is the issue of border fencing. H.R. 399 mandates additional fencing as well as repair of existing fences within a year and a half of enactment.

Some reports indicate the bill would remove border fencing. We spoke with Rep. McCaul’s office who indicated this was not true, nor could we find any mention in the bill that border fence would be removed.

While it’s true there’s no provision to build a fence along the entirety of the southern border, the decision is strategic and allegedly more cost effective. H.R. 399 is certainly not shy about combining almost militarized border patrol with expanded, more effective fencing.

Addressing Legal Presence Overstays

“The committee worked closely with the House Judiciary Committee to address this glaring hole [visa overstay] in the outer ring of our border security,” McCaul said.

A key component of this bill is the enforcement of a biometric data exit system. Tracking entries and exits has long been a deficiency of DHS that’s allowed exceedingly high numbers of individuals entering the country lawfully to disappear. Depending on their manner of exit and the training of the CBP staff at the Port of Entry, exits have been haphazardly recorded, if at all.

McCaul said in a statement that “the Judiciary Committee will work on legislation to deliver results on interior enforcement, such as mandatory electronic verification of employment eligibility, addressing fraud in the asylum system, and allowing state and local law enforcement to help in enforcing our laws.”

Senate Support

Senators Johnson, Cornyn, and Flake introduced a complimentary bill in the Senate yesterday that reiterates and builds on McCaul’s bill.

A Strategic Shift in Overall Immigration Strategy?

H.R. 399 seems to signal a shift in Republican immigration reform strategy. Piecemeal reform bills are likely to be more successful than a sweeping immigration Omnibus style bill.

Senator Rubio told Bloomberg Politics he also favors a piecemeal approach saying, “a comprehensive immigration plan won’t be passed by Congress because many lawmakers don’t believe the enforcement provisions would be carried out.”

We will continue to follow Congressional efforts to restructure immigration laws.

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