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‘We’re trying to fix a real immigration problem’: SD Sen. Rounds among 4 who back border wall funding plan

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds

PIERRE, S.D. — U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., is one of four Republican senators to propose fully funding President Donald Trump’s long-requested border wall on the United States-Mexico border at an estimated cost of $25 billion over the next 10 years.

The plan would be funded by cutting down on benefits for undocumented immigrants, including requiring Social Security numbers to claim tax credits, requiring welfare applicants prove their citizenship before receiving benefits and increasing the minimum fines on individuals who overstay their visas or make illegal border crossings.

On the latter, Rounds said the proposed fine would increase from $50 to $3,000.

The bill in the Senate was authored by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and was co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and John Kennedy, R-La. Rounds defended the bill in a conference call with South Dakota reporters Thursday, saying that the United States cannot protect itself if it doesn’t protect its southern border.

“If we’re going to be a strong nation, one of the most important things we can do is defend ourselves and defend our borders,” Rounds said. “It will be a step, but won’t be the only important step toward trying to resolve the issue. Because we’re trying to fix a real immigration problem in this country.”

Rounds said the plan would call for a mixture of physical and electronic barriers, and some of the $25 billion would be used to acquire private land. Rounds backed away from Trump’s 2016 campaign promise of building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, saying he “can’t answer for the president on that.”

“I’m not the one that’s ever said Mexico is going to do it, but I do agree with the president that we do need to address it,” he said.

Rounds said the plan would require a work-authorized Social Security number for parents to claim refundable tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit. Currently, only the child needs a valid number. The plan would require welfare applicants — most notably food stamps and HUD recipients — to verify citizenship.

Rounds said the Congressional Budget Office has indicated that those changes would provide more than enough funds for the border plan. He said the changes would prevent the risk of using the Department of Defense budget to pay for border security.

“I feel very strongly that the amount we’re currently spending on the Department of Defense is the minimum that it should be now,” Rounds said, citing the need to develop new technology to stay ahead of international rivals.

The Hill, a Washington-based political website, reported Thursday that the legislation is unlikely to pass. Rounds’ legislation was largely overshadowed by the short-term spending bill that Congress sent to Trump’s desk for a two-week deadline extension on a partial government shutdown, which has hinged on the border wall debate. A partial shutdown would stop funding for some federal agencies, most notably the Department of Homeland Security.

The deadline was moved from to Dec. 21. Democrats have only proposed extending current funding levels for Homeland Security, essentially allocating $1.3 billion for security and fencing in 2019. A bipartisan Senate deal negotiated earlier this year provided $1.6 billion for border security and fencing, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate Minority Leader, said that deal is still on the table.

Trump’s demand has been $5 billion and earlier this week, he tweeted that “top border security” cost $25 billion and said, without substantiation, it could be paid for in two months. He’s repeatedly threatened to shut down the government over wall funding.

Rounds, who said he sees his bill as being a standalone plan, believes that illegal border crossings will continue but “at least when they’re caught, there is a penalty.”

“We just don’t think we’re being wrong in saying that if the law is in place, let’s actually enforce the law better,” he said.