Last month the House passed H.R. 4119, The Border Tunnel Prevention Act. The bill’s purpose is to reduce the trafficking of drugs and to prevent human smuggling across the Southwest Border by deterring the construction and use of border tunnels. It passed with overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats. Obama just signed the bill into law yesterday. 416 of the 420 House members voted for the bill. Only four did not. I don’t know about you but when something like that happens it makes me wonder why. Did these Congressmen know something the others did not.
The three Republicans who voted no were Justin Amash, Paul Broun, and Ron Paul. The lone democrat who voted no was Bobby Scott.
Lucky for us Justin Amash always posts his votes and the reasons for why he voted the way he did on Facebook. Here is what he had to say on H.R. 4119.
I voted “no” on the motion to suspend the rules and pass H R 4119, Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2012. The bill increases penalties for attempting or conspiring to construct an unauthorized tunnel under the U.S. border, and it mandates that the government seize assets used in constructing such tunnels. It’s the federal government’s responsibility to secure our borders. But statutes that criminalize conspiracy and/or authorize asset forfeiture have widespread potential for abuse and may violate constitutional due process. It passed 416-4.
Democrat Bobby Scott posted his reasoning on his website. I think he has some good points.
When this bill, H.R. 4119, was in the Judiciary Committee, I commented on what I saw as the redundancies in the bill. We already have laws against constructing or financing a tunnel between the United States and another country. The penalty for violating the law is a fine and up to 20 years in prison. And we have laws against knowing, or recklessly disregarding, that land you own or lease is being used by someone else who is building a tunnel, The penalty for that is a fine and up to 10 years in prison.
Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, stated in testimony before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control on June 15, 2011, that all of the tunnels discovered thus far were started in Mexico. So if it takes crossing the border to be a border tunnel, and all of them are started in Mexico, the ”attempt” provision of H.R. 4119 does not seem like a very useful tool in addressing border tunnels. Conspiracy laws, which already exist, would seem to be of better use. And if existing conspiracy charges are not enough of a prosecutorial incentive, it would seem you would want to wait until the tunnel is actually being used so you can really rack up the penalties for drugs, goods or people smuggling which allows a doubling of penalties.
In addition to adding attempt and increasing the penalty for conspiracy, H.R. 4119 adds provisions for wire tap, forfeiture, and money laundering, which should always be done carefully, in my view. These are extraordinary government powers that were created and authorized to be used in extraordinary cases and circumstances, not to address ordinary crime. We have come to routinely add these authorities to deal with the crime du jour, further cluttering up an already bloated federal code with multiple, superfluous ways to charge every crime. There are no U.S. restrictions on the use of wiretaps outside the U.S. Since the tunnels are seemingly always started in Mexico, it is not clear what wiretap authorizations add to the investigative process.
We should not be decorating the criminal code with more and more pages. We ought to be simplifying the code. While I do think border tunnels are a serious problem, I believe we already have adequate laws with very harsh penalties to deal with the problem.
I was unable to find any comment from either Paul Broun or Ron Paul on this vote.
So while nearly the entire house jumped at the chance to pass a bill that would no doubt sound good to their constituents, a few bold, brave leaders stood up and actually thought for themselves and reached what I consider to be the responsible and Constitutional end. Cudos to these patriots.