Sen. Mike Rounds is co-sponsoring legislation that would provide $25 billion to fully fund a wall and other border security measures along the U.S. border with Mexico, he announced Thursday.
The legislation introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and co-sponsored by Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is called the WALL Act.
“The primary responsibility of the federal government is the defense of our nation, which includes strong border security,” Rounds said in a news release.
He said the wall is needed to "protect against illegal immigration and stop those who wish to do us harm, such as terrorists, gang members and drug dealers."
Rounds said the bill would be funded by increasing minimum fines for people who illegally cross the border, establishing a minimum penalty for overstaying visas, and closing loopholes that allow illegal immigrants to receive federal benefits.
Regarding the loopholes, Rounds said the bill would require a work-authorized Social Security number to claim refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.
Currently, Rounds said, only a child needs a Social Security number for a parent to benefit from the Child Tax Credit. Additionally, he said, some people are benefiting from the Earned Income Tax Credit because the Social Security Administration did not distinguish between work-eligible and non-work-eligible Social Security numbers before 2003.
Rounds said the bill would also require welfare applicants to formally verify citizenship. Currently, he said, applicants need only to “declare” citizenship and provide a Social Security number to receive some benefits.
On a Thursday conference call with reporters, Rounds was asked if the bill's increased fines and closed benefit loopholes would be sufficient to produce $25 billion. Rounds said the bill would produce the money over a 10-year period.
"We’ve outlined a number of different items that have been vetted by the Congressional Budget Office, who have indicated that these are legitimate, and that they would raise the money over the time period estimated," Rounds said.
Money for a border wall has been part of ongoing talks between Congress and President Donald Trump about funding to keep the federal government running. A bill approved by Congress on Thursday, which Trump was expected to sign, will keep the government running until Dec. 21. Another agreement will be necessary to avert a shutdown on that date, and Trump’s desire for at least $5 billion for wall funding is said to be a central issue in the negotiations.
Rounds said the WALL Act is not an attempt to avert a shutdown, but is instead a standalone bill that aims to fund a wall with something other than money taken from the Department of Defense.
"We’re saying, if we’re going to do a wall, let’s find some pay-fors for it," Rounds said during his conference call.
Although his news release about the bill focused on building a wall, Rounds said on the conference call that he supports a border security system that would include a wall or fence along parts of the border, natural geographic boundaries along other parts of the border, electronic security measures, and sufficient manpower.
In response to reporters' questions about President Trump's oft-repeated campaign pledge to fund a wall with money from Mexico, Rounds deferred to Trump.
"I'll let him answer that," Rounds said.