GOP bill would help fund Trump’s border wall

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WASHINGTON — A top Senate Republican unveiled a border and immigration enforcement bill on Thursday with fellow GOP lawmakers that would invest $15 million over four years in border security and help fund President Donald Trump’s wall.

The bill would authorize the physical border wall and technological advancements at the southern border. It would also put into law Trump’s desire to hire thousands more Border Patrol agents, immigration officers and judges and seeks to add resources to ports of entry and to local law enforcement in the border region, and would mandate a national entry-exit system for tracking people entering and leaving the US with biometric measurements.

The bill would not touch the structure of the US visa system or reform any of the legal immigration laws in the US, but the GOP senators backing it say border security must come first before a broader immigration measure goes forward.

“Until our borders are fully secure, the current system will continue to reward people who enter our country illegally over those who follow the law,” said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso. “This bill will make sure our immigration officers have the tools and resources they need to enforce our laws and secure our borders.”

The measure includes Kate’s Law, which creates increased penalties for immigrants that repeatedly come to the US illegally after being deported. It also would punish “sanctuary cities” — a catch-all term that describes jurisdictions who in some way don’t fully engage in federal immigration enforcement — by taking away federal funds.

The bill would also create new criminal penalties for transnational organized crime and would increase vetting measures for people seeking visas to the US.

In another potentially controversial measure, the bill would require that unaccompanied minors who cross into the US illegally are screened quickly to potentially allow them to be sent immediately back to their home country.

Unaccompanied minors are a focus of lawmakers who claim that the system of settling them with family and guardians in the US allows for the spread of gang violence — though there is no statistical evidence to back up the concern. Currently, unaccompanied minors are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services for placement with a guardian, in part due to court rulings limiting how they can be treated in federal custody.

The Senate requires 60 votes to move legislation forward, meaning at least eight Democrats would be needed on the bill.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn unveiled the bill Thursday with Barrasso, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.

The legislation is similar to a border security bill introduced in the House by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul.