Sen. John Hoeven (left), R-N.D., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., are seen March 6 outside the Jefferson Hotel in Washington. The senators added a provision to the immigration bill that would require US officials to devote about $38 billion to systems and personnel, but it seems unlikely to survive after the House rejected the Senate's immigration legislation. (Mandel Ngan / AFP)
WASHINGTON — When US House Republican leaders announced Wednesday the chamber would not take up a Senate-passed immigration bill, they delivered yet another setback to US defense firms.
House Speaker John Boehner’s office released a statement Wednesday from the chamber’s GOP leadership that announced the lower chamber will pursue immigration policy changes in a “step-by-step” manner.
“Today, House Republicans affirmed that rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system,” the leaders’ statement said.
“The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy,” according to the statement, released after a lengthy closed-door GOP caucus meeting. “But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem.”
And, with that, a nearly $40 billion provision added to the Senate’s immigration bill that called for billions in new hardware, such as surveillance aircraft and sensors, likely died.
“The Senate immigration bill would be a godsend for defense-oriented high-tech companies trying to deal with life after Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Daniel Goure, a former senior Army official now with the Lexington Institute.
“Many of these companies have gotten very good at developing and deploying sophisticated sensor and intelligence-collection systems as well as feeding finished intelligence directly to the war fighter,” he said. “These technologies and skills would be extremely useful in meeting the requirements in the Senate bill.”
At issue is a plan hatched during the final days of the Senate’s work last month on an immigration reform bill.
Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota added a provision that would require US officials to devote about $38 billion to systems and personnel, aiming to better secure the US-Mexico border.
Included in that controversial provision is a requirement for four aerial surveillance drones, 30 ships, 10 modified and five new Black Hawk helicopters, and hundreds of ground-based and mobile surveillance systems.
The Corker-Hoeven provision also would require federal entities purchase advanced surveillance gear and radars for surveillance planes. What’s more, it would mandate the National Guard provide extra aerial drones and choppers along America’s southern border.
Analysts say the Senate bill would boost US defense firms that would supply the platforms, like Black Hawk-maker Sikorsky, and manufacturers of drone aircraft and radar systems.
“Companies whose skills honed in war could be applied on the border include Sierra Nevada, which has pioneered in the area of wide-area airborne surveillance systems, L-3 and Lockheed Martin with their competing fixed ground-surveillance systems,” Goure said.
He also pointed to “AeroVironment, which makes small, man-portable UAVs, and Raytheon, which has developed the long-range, aerostat-based radar surveillance system.”
But the Senate plan is in big trouble because House Republicans are touting several existing bills that would alter US immigration policies using a piecemeal approach.
Several were crafted by the House Judiciary Committee. An examination of a border security bill crafted by its Immigration and Border Security subcommittee shows that measure contains no mandate for a lengthy list of new defense contractor-supplied hardware.
The Judiciary Committee and the House GOP caucus appear mostly interested in what the panel calls “interior enforcement,” meaning enforcement of US immigration laws once non-citizens already are inside the United States. The panel is less concerned about a heavily armed border, according to committee documents and member comments.
“Successful immigration reform must address effective interior enforcement. This is an integral piece of the puzzle,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a June 18 statement. “We can’t just be fixated on securing the border, which undoubtedly is an issue of paramount concern.
House GOP leaders and the Judiciary Committee are mostly concerned about reforming visa policies and limiting illegal immigrants’ access to federal aid programs.
“We must also focus on what to do with aliens who make it past the border and legal immigrants who violate the terms of their visas,” Goodlatte said. “As many members of the law enforcement community have told us, any real immigration reform effort must guarantee that our laws will be enforced within the US so that future generations do not have to once again grapple with these issues.”
A Judiciary Committee summary of its border legislation contains a section titled “Strengthens Border Security.” It makes no mention of a Senate-like requirement that the Department of Homeland Security or other federal entities purchase billions in new hardware.
The same is true of another section in the committee’s summary, “Strengthens National Security,” which focuses on making it “more difficult for foreign terrorists and other foreign nationals who pose national security concerns to enter and remain in the United States.”
Notably, if the House eventually passes its individual immigration reform bills and enters into a conference with senators, the Corker-Hoeven border security provision would be a major issue.
Congressional sources say it is doubtful fiscally conservative GOP House members, and some Democrats, would support the $40 billion border security plan.
The House Republican leaders say the Obama administration “cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate,” according to their statement.
GOP leaders point to the White House’s decision to delay part of its own health care law as evidence; but the immigration spat has most to do about what kind of path to citizenship for immigrants any legislation should contain. House GOP leaders and rank-and-file members oppose the Senate bill’s provision that creates that kind of path.
But two analysts at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank here, call that political folly.
“Trying to leverage Obamacare implementation as an argument against immigration reform is breathtakingly cynical,” CAP’s Marshall Fitz and Philip Wolgin wrote in a recent blog post. “It attempts to distract readers from the bill itself by ginning up an emotional response to a wholly unrelated issue.”