U.S. Sen. John Cornyn laid out a $15 billion, four-year border security plan Thursday that envisions more personnel and the use of new technology — and a barrier for parts of the border, but not all of it.
The strategy, which the Texas Republican calls a “layered” approach, differs from President Donald Trump’s emphasis on a wall.
A border wall, Cornyn said, is “an important part of the story,” but it’s “not the whole story.”
Cornyn also opposed spending $1.6 billion, approved by the House, on initial segments of the wall.
“What we need is a plan first, funding should come after the plan, not first,” Cornyn, joined by three other GOP senators, told reporters Thursday.
Republican senators face fierce opposition from Democrats on approving the wall funding, which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has staked out as a nonstarter.
Now, wall opponents can point to Cornyn’s plan. “I would prefer to have a plan in place,” Cornyn said when asked about the administration’s plan to spend $1.6 billion as soon as possible.
He said federal authorities should consult local officials in shaping the border strategy in each area. “Border security is not a one-size-fits-all proposition,” said Cornyn, noting the differences between ports of entry in Hidalgo County in South Texas and San Diego in Southern California.
Trump hasn’t backed away from his campaign promise to build a wall, and his campaign sent out a petition Wednesday urging his supporters to sign it and contact their senators. “Let’s remind every single Senator the American VOTERS want this beautiful, impenetrable wall constructed,” Trump wrote. He described the House-passed $1.6 billion as a “down payment” to build the wall.
Cornyn, as majority whip and a border state senator, has considerable influence on the process and is unlikely to push the administration position for wall funding in the next fiscal year, which must be done by Oct. 1. Much will depend on who becomes the new homeland security secretary after Gen. John Kelly moved this week from that post to become the White House chief of staff.
Cornyn wouldn’t comment on whom he prefers to lead the department but when asked after the news conference about former Gov. Rick Perry, now energy secretary, and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who are being mentioned as candidates to head homeland security, he praised both. “I hired Mike when I was attorney general in Texas and think very highly of him,” he said.
The Homeland Security Department has taken bids on wall prototypes that officials have promised will be built this summer. U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, told the American-Statesman that an agency waiver of environmental rules earlier this week for 14 miles of existing fencing in San Diego included one mile that will be used to build the prototypes.
As for Trump’s campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the wall, Cornyn demurred and said that Congress had to fulfill its function. Any effort to get Mexico to reimburse the U.S., “we’ll leave that to the president,” he said.
Cornyn’s bill, called the Building America’s Trust Act, has an important co-sponsor, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who attended the news conference. “I’m completely supportive,” Johnson said of the bill, describing it as a “well-thought out piece of legislation.” Also at the announcement were Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
The bill calls for:
• A multilayered infrastructure plan for the border, including walls, fencing, levees and technology.
• An increase in federal agents at ports of entry and on the border as well as more immigration judges and prosecutors.
• More resources for state and local law enforcement to fight drug trafficking.
• A prohibition on “sanctuary cities” by setting penalties on federal funds for cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials.
• Ending “catch and release” of undocumented immigrants, and it includes “Kate’s Law,” a crackdown on criminal repeat offenders who are in the country illegally, named for Kathryn Steinle who was killed in San Francisco by a felon who had been deported multiple times.